Spiritual Growth

When All You See Are God’s Impossible Expectations

Cease striving and know that I am God ~ Psalm 46:10

Striving.  It feels as though this word could describe so much of how I have lived this gift of a life.  Pushing forward, stretching to the mark, I wore myself out.  Perfectionism demands everything while never acknowledging anything as good enough, worthy or finished.  Though I’m miles from my former self, when I sit still and allow God to search my heart, I find vestiges of striving alive and well within me. 

race

I shared last week about my childhood and the daunting expectations my father had for my behavior, along with the  life-threatening consequences which were in store for me when I failed to meet the mark.  The roots of my perfectionism grow from deep wounds and the self-protective defenses I have developed to keep myself from ever being hurt by anyone like that again.  When we learn to defend ourselves with striving, we cling to it.  Relinquishing a shield, defective as it may be, feels far too risky when threats loom at us in every relationship.  Maybe you haven’t been abused physically as I was.  Perhaps people in your life held up standards and shamed you or rejected you when you messed up or fell short.  Maybe you were raised to compete with others – feeling the only way to get your share of what was good was to be the best at everything.  It could be you experienced loss so great that you learned to steel yourself by performing.  People failed you, so your achievements and ability would fill the gap. 

Whatever the origin of your striving, God is calling you to cease.  I often dwell on the verse in Galatians 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Our perfectionism yokes us heavily, causing us to live trapped and driven.  Jesus died to free me – to free you – from the weight of this yoke.  He wants us out of shackles so we can dance with Him.  Imagine a slave, set free, who returns to the life he knew instead of walking into the liberty which had been purchased for him.   God doesn’t want that for you.  He bought our freedom and He wants us to enjoy it, thrive in it, and never return to bondage. 

Armours_in_Tallinn by Samuli Lintula

Over the years, increasingly, I have turned to God in my perfectionism, longing to release and be healed.  I discovered the very shield protecting me from you, kept Him at bay as well.  I feared His “impossible expectations.”  As Dale & Juanita Ryan express in their study, Distorted Images of God: Restoring Our Vision, God is either a God of Impossible Expectations or a God of Compassion.  Those of us accustomed to striving need God so desperately.  The hitch comes when we approach God and find we see Him as the most demanding being we have ever encountered.  Our lenses are skewed and we can only see Him as a grand taskmaster, exacting much and zapping all who fail to comply.  I have given a head nod to God’s goodness and love, thinking this was the largest part of my faith in Him, all the while, in the recesses of my heart, I was wondering if I can really be good enough for Him to love me.  This fear drove me to work my tail feathers off in ministry.  At one church I was on the Mission Board (which I helped found), on the Worship Team, on the Women’s Ministry Leadership Team, taking children home with me after church on Sunday to give their parents a break, feeding the homeless, Teaching Inductive Bible Study courses and discipling a number of women – all this while holding down a full-time job!  Holy over-commitment, Batman!  I didn’t know then that I was compensating for the fear that God couldn’t possibly love me for who I am.  Under the surface I was driven by the false conviction that my works gave me value.  

In their study, the Ryans refer to a book by David Seamands, Healing for Damaged Emotions.  In it, he says:

God .. is seen as a figure on top of a tall ladder.  [The person] says to himself, “I’m going to climb up to God now.  I’m His child and I want to please Him more than anything else.”  So he starts climbing, rung by rung, working so hard, until his knuckles are bleeding and his shins are bruised .. He climbs and struggles, but when he gets up there, his God has gone up another three rungs. .. God is that little inner voice that always says, “That’s not quite good enough.” 

Can you relate? 

Ladder

In stark contrast, think of how God presents Himself in Psalm 103 {my paraphrase}:

The Lord, your God, forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
He redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with His love and compassion,
The Lord satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed –
even those oppressed by their own perfectionism.
He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel
and to you through His word
The Lord is compassionate and gracious to you,
slow to anger, abounding in love for you.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
He does not treat you as your sins deserve
or repay you according to your iniquities.
When you don’t meet the mark,
He isn’t standing there waiting to punish you.
Instead, He has forgiven you and taken your sin as His own.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for you who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed your transgressions from you.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on you who fear him;
for He knows how you are formed,
He remembers that you are dust.

hand reaching

God reaches down the ladder.  He comes down to where we are striving ever upward.  He gently pries our bloody fingers off the rungs.  He has compassion – caring intimately for us right where we are.  He says, “Stay off the ladder.”  He is the God Who reaches down – the God who enters in – the God who takes our place.  He never intended for our perfectionism to meet the mark.  He is mindful of our frame.  He knows we are but dust.  

I encourage you to dwell on Psalm 103 this week.  Take out your highlighter and go over the parts which speak to your soul.  Etch them in your mind.  Preach them to your heart.  Make your mantra “Cease Striving” … and “Know that I am God.”  He fills in the blanks which we can never muster, even on our best of days.  He fills them in with His unfailing love – the love for sinners like you and me. 


If you missed the first post in this series on Distorted Images of God, you can find it here.  Next week I’ll be writing on The Emotionally Distant God vs. The God of Intimacy and Grace.  The Bible Study by the Ryans is a great resource to help you along.  I would love to hear from you or pray for you.  Share in the comments or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page

Armours in Tallinn photo by Samuli Lintula

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