Nobody’s perfect. We say it but do we really mean it? Our culture is obsessed with perfection. I live near the Silicon Valley where perfectionism has been honed to near perfection. Upper middle class trophy wives spend their days moving from spa to gym to trendy store to beauty parlor. Their Mercedes Benz convertible is replace with the BMW SUV when it is time to pick up the pseudo-perfect kids from the best schools to take them to music lessons, then soccer practice, then the orthodontist, then gymnastics. I actually know one fifteen year old sophomore whose typical school day is from 7:30 AM to 9:30 PM. This seemingly endless day is necessary if the child is to get into the best university, or even the best Kindergarten. Each lesson gives mom a chance to quickly
dart into one more place to purchase one more gadget for her husband or buy the perfect Lancôme anti-aging moisturizer. What chemicals don’t take care of, the knife, silicon and Botox will. There’s even a new word in the English language which comes out of this social environment: Sanctimommy: a mother who points out perceived faults in the parenting of others.
This kind of silly, pretentious perfectionism is easy to mock…and it’s fun. But in honesty, my concern isn’t as much the behavior as the social context that drives people to such extremes. The practitioners of such behavior are victims, even if they don’t realize it. I’m even more concerned that we Christians have fashioned our own spiritual Silicon Valley. Do we Christians feel safe with each other? Do we Christians play a similar sort of pseudo-spiritual perfectionism game? Are we free to be our real, quirky selves without fear of judgment, rejection or condescension? After all sanctimommy is a play on the word sanctimonious: hypocritically pious or devout.
Sadly the Church has a long history of not being a safe emotional atmosphere. Our response to this unsafe milieu is to try to tow the line, fake it or both. How many times have we been afraid to bring up our view on a subject for fear of anger, rejection or acrimonious debate? How many times have we pretended that all was well in our life when all wasn’t well at all? Are we afraid of what others think about our weaknesses in punctuality, body shape, grammar or other imperfection? Does our preferred expression of worship fit with all the Christians we know? Do we feel safe in letting them know we prefer to raise our hands or keep them in our pockets? Do we feel welcomed to fellowship and worship with Christians of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds, or would we feel less than accepted as family? Do our spiritual gatherings make the poor and outcast feel rich and welcomed?
An unsafe spiritual ambiance creates spiritual imaging. That is where we pretend to be something we are not. We project an image instead of being our unique, quirky and less than perfect selves. An unsafe spiritual ambiance creates insecurity, and spiritual insecurity is a playground for the devil to work his evil on our souls. An unsafe spiritual ambiance creates lying and hiding, wounding and hurt. We have been set free, so we should live free. We have been accepted by God, so that should play out in the way we act and how we think and behave with ourselves and others.
Jesus said: Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Lk 6:37). That implies a beautiful spiritual environment. It is a place where instead of judgment we find acceptance. Instead of condemnation we find encouragement. Instead of resentment we find forgiveness. It’s a place where it is alright to be an oddball. Let’s be open, gracious and free with others as well as with ourselves. Let’s strive for that, but let’s realize that hey, nobody’s perfect. Even in this we can relax in our idiosyncratic imperfection.
- Have you ever been in a Christian environment where you could really let your hair down? How was it?
- If we have this kind of free spiritual ambiance are we encouraging sin and laxness?
- Isn’t there a place for exhortation and even confrontation in the body? What are the parameters for knowing when to exhort and confront?
- When a spiritual environment becomes toxic what should we do? If we speak up are we being hypocrites?