Perfectionism is often lurking in the background of every woman’s life, especially the Christian woman. We often have a checklist in our minds–or I do anyway–of everything we have to accomplish or feel like we have to accomplish. If we fail, then we somehow feel as if we don’t measure up, that we aren’t good enough. If this describes you, then you’re in the same muddy water I sometimes find myself in. We fall into the comparison game: she has it all together; she lost the baby weight in like a month;she and her kids always look so great; she makes her own baby food, soap, clothes, etc; she always has a clean house and a home-cooked meal; she and she and she. But instead of falling prey to that thinking, what if we just stopped and truly thought about the blessings that we have?
As Christians, we have been given a gift (Ephesians 2:8)–a gift that nothing can compare to, not even the gift that God has blessed me with of the sweet smiling face of Jeremiah. We have been given the gift of salvation. In the book Christ in the Chaos: How the Gospel Changes Motherhood, she breaks down this GREAT gift into two gifts, no guilt and total righteousness. She goes on to say that
It seems many Christians, myself included, find it hard to remember the second gift [gift of righteousness]. Told that our slate is now clean, we rejoice. But then our follow-through is all wrong–we assume that, having been given a clean slate, our job now is to go forth, produce good fruit, do lots of good works, and try really hard to keep a perfectly God-honoring record. It is often suggested to us-and often we assume-that if we mess up we have to start all over. We think that if we mess up our slate is marred or even ruined, and then we have to prove we deserve to have it wiped clean again.
I can’t count how many times I’ve fallen flat on my face in fear that God would reject me. Until I discovered that I am His and nothing can separate me from His love (Romans 8:38-39), I lived in this constant fear of rejection, so I hounded myself until all I thought about was the law and my conformity to it. This mentality is not the righteousness of Christ. It’s exactly the opposite. It’s self-righteousness and borders on the lines of legalism where you only focus on you and not what Christ has done for you.
There is supreme difference between legalism and godly discipline in our lives. The way our heart approaches these matters is important. We have to remember that God’s grace is sufficient for us. Grace comes from the Greek word charis, which means “the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life; gratitude; favor; gift; joy; liberality; pleasure.” As God’s children, we don’t create a big to-do list where we check things off. We live in His grace. Grace is not just unmerited favor. It is an enabler to live a life of obedience to Him! Live in it! Bask in it!
I love how Barbara Hughes describes this issue of legalism and discipline from the book Disciplines of a Godly Woman:
But true discipline is a far cry from legalism–thank God! The difference lies in motivation: Legalism is self-centered; discipline is God-centered. The legalistic heart says, “I will do this to gain merit with God.” The disciplined heart says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please Him.” The true heart of discipline is relationship–a relationship with God.
So, when we so easily fall into the temptation of checking items off a list (I read my Bible today, I prayed today, I do this and she doesn’t do that), ask yourself where this motivation is coming from. Are you doing the things you do to receive the title of “perfect mom,” or are you motivated to do the things you do out of love for God?