Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The War of the Guys In Me

This will be an intensely personal blog so feel free to skip it if you want. I don't imagine it will be intensely personal because I will be writing about myself through it all, but because I will be writing about a raw nerve in my own being an perhaps yours as well.

I am a recovering perfectionist. Which is to say that that I am a perfectionist and that has often messed with my sense of self, many of my relationships and sometimes my ministry. Mostly, though, it messes with my own sense of self. I am my own worst critic and my own worst enemy. And, I am trying not to live in that framework. However, I am usually at war within myself - the holiness guy in me insists that, until I get my life more perfectly aligned with Christ, I am not entirely acceptable to God. The mystic in me tells me that God loves and accepts me perfectly and completely and unreservedly just as I am - flaws and imperfections and poor choices and all. The holiness guy fires back that the mystic guy is all about sloppy agape and cheap grace and whatever happened to becoming more like Jesus (read: perfect)? The mystic guy tells me that the holiness guy is a legalist with unrealistic standards that not even God demands. Holiness guy insist that sin and grace cannot co-exist in the same person. Mystic guy says, "They can and they do, dummy. Look in the mirror!" And, they end up making rude gestures at each other as they fight for dominance.

I am reading a book by Brennan Manning that is not really helping out the holiness guy in me. Father Manning writes about the furious grace of God - furious not in the sense of anger but in the sense of powerful and driven. God's grace is furious in the sense that God wants to pour it out liberally on everyone...soak us in it. But, like the people of the Gulf Coast who (rightly so) nail boards to their windows to keep out the hurricane's wind and rain, perfectionists often erect barriers (not rightly so) against God's grace.

Father Manning re-tells the story at the end of the gospel of John where Jesus meets Peter and the other disciples on the beach with breakfast. This is after Peter had denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest. Sometime during or after that meal Jesus asks Peter three times, "Peter, do you love me?" and Peter answers three times, "You know I love you, Lord." And, in reply, each time Jesus tells Peter "Feed my sheep/tend my lambs."

Here's what was new for me: the idea that Jesus knew that Peter loved him, even as he denied Jesus in the courtyard. Jesus knew Peter's denial was an act of self-preservation and not a deliberate attempt to hurt Jesus. So, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to reiterate his love for Jesus for each of the times Peter denied him. It was not so much an act of "atonement" as I had always thought, but an act of compassion for Peter. Let me 'splain...

If I were Peter (and I am pretty sure there is a Peter that runs around in me somewhere) I would be beating myself up for having denied Jesus when the chips were down. I would have talked myself into a downward spiral of how bad a person I am and how Jesus would never forgive me and how I was not fit to be in a relationship with God and how my footsteps stain this earth and so on. But, Jesus was not thinking that. Jesus knew my heart. Jesus knew that I really do love him, I was just thinking more about my own hide than his that night. (Thank God that every mistake we make does not mean an ending.) So, Jesus leads me into an opportunity to re-affirm my love and he re-affirms his.

But, that's not all. Jesus then gives Peter a commission: "Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs." This was perhaps John's way of telling how Peter became a leader in the early church. Brennan Manning writes, "Jesus didn't say anything more, what he said was enough. Do you love me? Can you allow my love to touch you in your weakness, and set you free there, and empower you? So that when Peter went out from then on empowered by Jesus, the only power he had was Jesus' love for him and his love for the Lord. That's the only power he had."

In my call to ministry I had a similar commission as Peter - in a kind of a shepherd motif. And, I have the same empowerment - though I didn't know it until now. I have been thinking that my empowerment came from my seminary degree (it doesn't) or from my ordination (it doesn't) or from my keen mind and powerful sermons and gifts for organization and administration (yeah...right!) My empowerment comes solely from God's love for me and my love for God. And, the rub is that even when I don't exactly love God, God still loves me and that empowers me to be the guy I was created and redeemed to be.

So, holiness guy in me is retreating and mystic guy in me is smiling smugly. Mystic guy isn't winning - I like to think it is God in me who is winning. May that be for all the recovering and not yet recovering perfectionists out there.

Maybe John Lennon was right: all you need is love.

1 comment:

Dean Mosey said...

....once again lending credence to the idea that we might be the same person in two different bodies. OK, so it's probably like you, me and a squjillion other bodies. Thanks for the insight regarding perfectionism. It was actually a conflict I was struggling with at 5:30 this morning during my daily walk. I'm sure the battle will rage on but I do understand that there is hope.....

I love ya' brother!