I was born with a desperate need for perfection. I hate having to admit I was wrong about anything; as I’m wrong fairly often, it’s a vicious way to live. The most constructive criticism or even the softest suggestion tears away at my ego, hinting that I should have known better, should have chosen better in the first place. I am merciless to myself and thus standoffish to other people, hunched like a wounded animal over my fragile sense of rightness.*
God nudged me this morning and pointed to two verses I’ve unknowingly clung to over the years, making them more gospel than the actual gospel to my heart: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and “Be above reproach.” I heard them taught as a kid, tucked them away (out of context) in my mind, and, absolutely missing the real point of both passages, created a standard for myself that I thought was God-commanded: flawlessness. It became my mission to think through every decision ever, select the “right” one, and never have to deal with getting it wrong. Being reprimanded (or as we warped Southerners say, having a “come to Jesus meeting”) is on my list of biggest fears ever. No, thanks.
So when I crack open Scripture and find a Savior who is always in trouble for doing something wrong, my curiosity battles my need for rightness…and wins. Who is this God who messes up so frequently? And why doesn’t He seem to mind?
For someone who’s absolutely perfect, Jesus sure did “get it wrong” a lot, at least according to the cultural standards of His day. He was admonished by the religious leaders about pretty much everything: who He hung out with, how much He ate/drank, what He said, when He healed, how He led His disciples, and on and on and on it goes. There was virtually nothing He did that met with their general approval. Which is really hard for a girl who clings to rightness—and the praise it’s supposed to bring from others—to swallow.
Christ knew the standards of His culture (I mean, He molded the people of the culture in His hands and held their beings together by His power); He wasn’t clueless about what they expected. But gaining the praise of people was at odds with His mission, and He knew His Daddy approved of Him to His deepest core. Why should others’ opinions, good or bad, have any weight in how He operated? There is freedom that comes in knowing you are right in God’s eyes—you don’t care how you look to anyone else.
Once again, I find myself at the cross. Am I to continue grasping my own rightness? Or will I lay it down and take up the righteousness purchased for me at precious cost, even if it means trading my reproof-proof life for one that the public probably won’t agree with?
I learned a beautiful line of Latin recently that has perched heavy on my soul ever since: esse quad voider, which means “to be, rather than to seem to be.” I am often wrong but want to look right. Jesus was always, only, ever really right (since He is the standard of rightness) but often looked wrong to the world. Would I rather be or seem to be? I can’t be both. I know what I desire for my answer to be, but when the rubber meets the road and I face the first disapproving look from a friend, family member, or anyone, really, what will be the choice of my heart—rightness or righteousness?
What will yours be?
*Yes, pride is probably the most insidious demon I deal with. It’s great.