The Burden of Perfection in Faith: Why I decided to look like a hypocrite vs. living as one.

I wish I could tell you I was the perfect example of faith.  I wish I could tell you I never cursed, never listened to gossip, never talked about someone behind their back because they “pissed me off”. Lord knows I wish I could tell you I was always grateful, thankful, and willing to do what God needed me to do in the moment…

But, that would be a lie.

I’m imperfect. Part of my imperfection comes from a “thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinth 12:7) in the form of Bipolar Disorder, which greatly affects my relationship with the Most-High. The other part of my imperfection is the result of being human (Roman 3:23) and growing up with flawed human influences, in flawed churches, run by flawed leaders, who promote legalism and traditions over the true love of God (Mark 7:7-9).

That’s why it was so difficult to develop a real relationship. Who wants to develop a relationship with someone they feel is constantly judging and condemning them? Who wants to serve someone under the threat of hell-fire and damnation?

Though I talked about God’s love, I didn’t feel loved. I felt unworthy, unable, and ultimately doomed. I knew, deep within, my heart wasn’t in it. Instead of freedom, peace, and security, I felt restricted and bound in religion. I lived in a constant state of fear over everything I did or thought that was wrong. I’d agonize if I’d ever make it to heaven.

I believe in authenticity – good, bad, ugly, or otherwise. I don’t like putting on heirs and presenting myself to be someone I’m not – especially as it’s related to God. I’d been down that road before, twice, and it always left me feeling conflicted and hypocritical. Yet, no one saw through my façade, I was welcomed, accepted, encouraged, even praised (both times); and while I may have been able to fool others, I couldn’t fool my own heart – or God (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Part of the problem I find with today’s believers is the false portrayal of perfection. If you can’t admit your sins, there’s no way you can fix them (Proverbs 28:13, Psalm 32:5); and if you’re too busy portraying a perfect life of faith, then you have little room to deal honestly with the sin in your life (1 John 1:9).

Let’s face it, when’s the last time you heard someone stand up in church and admit they have problems with gossip, lying, slander, ungratefulness, jealousy, pride, selfishness, self-righteousness, self-pity, greed, etc.? How many times have you heard someone stand up and say, “I’ve put my career, my job, my spouse, my etc. above God and I need help with this”? I never have.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard the standard testimony of the man/woman who lived numerous years in sin, maybe got caught in drugs, turned their life around during middle-age and now they’re “sold out” for God. I’ve also heard the standard testimony of someone who was healed by God after a lengthy battle with some form of illness…but never, have I ever, heard someone stand up and say – This is what I am struggling with right now and I need help. Why?

How are we supposed to “confess [our] sins to one another and pray for one another, that [we] may be healed…” as commanded in James 5:16, if we can’t even be honest about them? How are we supposed to, “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)?

Too often, people in the church condemn, when they should extend the hand of grace with a gentle spirit (Galatians 6:1-2). Despite all our talk about God’s love, grace, patience, and understanding – we rarely operate in these qualities, and it’s caused people to fake their faith. I refuse to remain a part of this.

Living with a chronic mental health issue, coupled with the childhood trauma that led to my disorder, complicates my relationship with God in a way that creates ongoing internal conflict. I’m generally strong in my faith, except when I experience something that triggers my disorder in a negative way. In those moments, I have a hard time studying the Word, or even listening to worship music because I feel angry, depressed, or too anxious to focus – and it’s not something that you can “just pray away”. I’ll still study and pray anyway, but I stop short of saying it always helps. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

My disorder includes hypersexuality, anxiety, a general distrust of everything and everyone, fear, and (much too often) a lack of gratitude mixed with complaints. I have difficulty loving EVERYONE as we are called. There are some I’m still struggling to forgive. I can be judgmental, highly critical, sanctimonious, and smug. I get angry with God. I sometimes question the will and ways of God. I am resentful. I doubt. I worry. Sometimes I go my own way, despite God’s direction. I listen to trap music, I still like R&B, sometimes I say curse words. I envy, I lust, I get angry, and I do not always, “do unto others as I would have them do unto [me]” (Luke 6:31).

During a depressive phase, it’s only by the grace of God I’m able to pick up a bible, or think about God, at all; and if I’m in a severe manic phase, I’m less likely to think about my actions, or their consequences – especially eternally. Some days, I want to turn back to the world and indulge my flesh because – YOLO! – other times it’s because Bipolar Disorder encourages me to seek the high(s) pleasure affords.

These are all things that go against the “perfect” walk as we describe it, but they are all things I battle with; and they are things I couldn’t deal with as long as I was faking a walk of perfection instead of striving for one (Philippians 3:12).

So, I decided to quit faking.

I can’t build an intimate relationship with God without being honest (Proverbs 6:17, 12:22, 21:3; 1 Chronicles 29:17). God already knows the depths of our hearts, and the ugliness of our sin, so what’s the point of keeping up the front (1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 44:21, 139:2-23; Proverbs 21:2)?

Since then, I’ve found freedom in my relationship with God. I don’t constantly feel like I’m being judged and condemned. I am more open with God. I am willing to confess actual sins and seek God’s power to help me overcome; whereas before, I’d pray “forgive my sins” with no desire to genuinely see any change, especially not while everyone was telling me how “holy” and “anointed” I was.

Sincere faith, requires sincere confession. 

Amazingly, the less you fake your faith, the more people question your walk. When I appeared to be “perfect” in my walk, people accepted me as a woman of God. The moment I began being honest about my flawed walk, so God can work in those areas to help me overcome, people stopped accepting me as a woman of God. 

Some people mistake my willingness to admit my flaws as an attempt to “promote sin” or “hold onto the world”, but this is not the case. At no time do I encourage anyone to do things to grieve the Spirit of God, and at no time do I go out of my way to sin. 

Instead, I encourage people to be honest about where they are, as they strive for perfection in Christ. I encourage people to recognize their sins, confess them in prayer, receive God’s grace to overcome them, and seek out scripture to strengthen them in the process. I reassure individuals who feel they’ll never “measure up” to stay the course, because God is faithful to complete the work begun in them until the end (Philippians 1:6) – if they persevere (James 1:12).

I am honest. I explain serving God won’t make things easier – in fact, it’ll complicate things more (2 Corinthians 4:8-9; Acts 14:22; 1 Peter 4:12; John 16:33). They’ll stumble a few times (Proverbs 24:16), but nothing will separate them from the love of God (Romans 8:35 – 39); and, if they remain in Christ, they’ll see the fruit of God in their lives and spirits (John 15:4).

It amazes me how we (believers and non-believers) complain about hypocrisy among [other] believers, while condemning those who are honest about their struggles in their faith walk, as hypocrites. It further amazes me how we so easily point out hypocrisy in others, but fail to see the same in ourselves.

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:4-5)

Too often, believers (and non-believers) hold other believers to impossible standards of perfection while expecting grace for their own sins. There’s something tragically wrong when pastors report experiencing high rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, and pressure to present themselves and their families as “perfect”

If even church leaders admit they have problems with presenting themselves as “perfect”, how much more do we?

I trust God to do what only God can – change me as S/He sees fit by making me whole (Colossians 2:10), healing the parts that need healing (Jeremiah 17:14), and breaking the parts that need breaking (Psalm 51:17); to ultimately, “create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) so “the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart [are always] pleasing in the sight of the Lord” (Psalm 19:14).
YHVH gifts us grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, strength, and power to overcome our entanglement with sin. It takes some of us (like me) much longer than others, but I believe God can and will do this in my life, and in yours, IF you’re willing.

The question is…are you?

Remember: You are loved. You are called. You are a child of the Most-High God, YHVH!

Written in Love,

Trista Daniell

 

 

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