Perfect family

Do you have a picture of how life should be?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10 (NASB)

I rarely do a two-part series with my devotionals. I’m going to take this week and next to describe a journey that impacted my life and ministry. Don’t you hate it when God tells you to become vulnerable? You know, become more transparent because it might help someone else — to put yourself out there. Well here goes…

As the first-born male of either side of the family and born to a set of parents who both came from very dysfunctional homes, my thoughts about what makes a good family were somewhat distorted. As I matured into adulthood, I thought about what a “good life” should look like: a good marriage, a good family, a good home, a good job, and some nice toys. In contrast to my upbringing, I believed that this is what I had to do to make my life good… or perfect is more like it.

It makes me shudder to think back on all that. For too many of my younger years I was a slave to perfectionism, to idealism, to lists, and to my desperate search for what the world defined as success. I found “safety” in following rules… and holding others to them. I found comfort in being the best, the top dog, and the high achiever.

I needed more education and degrees, a position of responsibility and authority, more recognition and awards, and finally more and bigger fish and game. I feared that chaos was the doorway to pain, suffering, and destruction… everything that hurt. My “picture” of perfect guaranteed peace, comfort, and acceptance.

Most often, I enjoyed getting ready for occasions more than actually spending time with company. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I can actually remember thinking, “I wish they’d hurry up and leave so I can get my boat, car, house, or stuff back in order.” It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy people; I just enjoyed a nice neat life more.

My favorite days were when I had a good (successful) day at work, the kids behaved themselves, my wife and I didn’t have a disagreement, I had a weekend of fishing planned, and all my stuff was polished up and ready to go. Everything was as it should be… But even then, I couldn’t relax or play or find true joy. I actually had to schedule fun things to do with my kids on the calendar, to make sure we had fun.

I could play games, read books, or do projects, but to just hang out with my wife or the kids at times seemed difficult. I had to be doing something, making something better, working towards some end. So much of my childhood was measured by accomplishments and success that all this just seemed natural. Driven by a solid work-ethic and visions of being famous some day I couldn’t afford to let up.

Sometimes when I slacked up, I could hear my mom’s voice in my imagination saying, “Get with it — you need to do thus and so.” I bought into her workaholic nature.

If you had accused me of being a perfectionist, I’d have been deeply offended and given you a well-organized list of justifications for everything I ever did. You see, I thought deeply about everything. I believed that everything I did had to have a purpose… and that it had to be done well. I was super at multitasking, organized to the hilt, and had an answer for just about everything.

I carried a huge brief case with everything I might ever need… just in case. I was punctual, pleasant, and prepared. I strived to be a good husband, a good father, a dedicated friend, and a son who honored his parents. I remembered birthdays and anniversaries. I paid all the bills on time, didn’t cheat on my taxes, voted Republican, let others go first, and tried to live by the golden rule. I was very critical of myself, wanting to be a “Billboard for Jesus.” I worked so hard to have it all together that I completely burned myself out. And thank goodness. God rescued me from all this mess.

Next week the story continues.

Personal Application

What portions of this story can you identify with? Why does it impact you?

What can you do to release more of your life to God? If you are enslaved to your own perspective on a life of perfection, give up. Ask Jesus to set you free.

Jim Grassi image and signature  Jim Grassi, D. Min.