I am a perfectionist.
I’m an overachiever.
I can be a workaholic.
Like you, I’ve heard many people make these statements, and I’ve made them myself. (I’m trying to quit.) But over the past few years I’ve noticed something about how we make these statements. Tone and body language can communicate quite a bit, as can context, and the same thought continues to come to mind as I observe and then look inward. Despite the apologetic, self-deprecating tones, the following truth often seeps through:
We act like it’s a good thing. We’re actually proud to be this way.
How often do we make these comments shortly after meeting someone we need to impress? Or at least assure that we aren’t lazy or incompetent? Or that we don’t care?
Thank you God that I am not like…
How similar is our manner of confessing these idolatries to the way in which we admit our guilty pleasures? Or touting our credentials as if every conversation were a resume?
We don’t truly want to let go of this identity of our own making. As much as we may say that perfectionism is unhealthy or even a sin, that we are our own worst enemy or critic, could it be that we find some sense of control, security, even comfort in classifying ourselves this way?
And dare I ask further, might we not find ourselves in the convenient position of being a martyr? Though perhaps we’d rather choose our own crosses?
Perfectionist. Overachiever. Workaholic. We clutch these identities and wear them like badges of honor to hide our shame. (But didn’t I just say we were proud? Yes. Pride and shame work quite well together, and we are contradictory beings.)
I could say a lot more about shame, but for right now, I’ll just say that the past few years I’ve only begun to realize the beauty and freedom of being a sinner. I mean owning that I’m a sinner. Confessing sin regularly and even corporately. Realizing the sin of others and not being shocked by it. Not to stop with being a sinner or excuse it but to take the position of being able to receive grace. The truth will set us free. Doctors visit sick people.
I’m not perfect. I can’t achieve. I fail. I am defective to my very core.
And no work of my own can remedy any of that.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Thankfully, there is One with whom I can be completely naked and unashamed because He is perfect and He has done all of the work for me.
His thoughts are not my thoughts, nor his ways my ways…or anyone else’s.
I stand before Him. I answer to Him alone. He sees the depravity of my soul, and His mercy is severe, His love fierce.
I am forgiven.
I am justified.
I am redeemed.
I am loved, pursued.
I am His, secure.
As Luther saw it, “sin boldly” did not happen to be a fundamental acknowledgement of his disobedient life; it was the gospel of the grace of God before which we are always and in every circumstance sinners. Yet that grace seeks us and justifies us, sinners though we are. Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it. But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? Interpreted in this way, these words of Luther become a testimony to the costliness of grace, the only genuine kind of grace there is. (Bonhoeffer 53)
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Simon and Schuster, 1959.