My intention for this blog was that it would be a place for me to journal my experiences, feelings, and emotions. Once I began to write, I realized that this "open book" might be a little too much, and so I pulled back. After all, I'm a woman, so the feelings and emotions part may be a little overwhelming, right? :) After some thought, I have decided to not worry so much about what others might think, and follow through with my original intentions. So, here it goes.
During the last couple of years, God has been teaching me some powerful lessons. Without getting too personal, I will just summarize some of my struggles and describe how He has allowed me to see a picture of myself and His grace.
Many of you can sympathize with this aspect of my personality, whether it is caused by birth order, the way one was raised, or some other unchangeable circumstance under which one was placed. I am what Kevin Lehman describes as a "discouraged perfectionist". More about that later.
One of the characteristics of a perfectionist is a critical eye. I do not label a critical eye as a negative tendency because, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, attention to detail is a powerfully positive tool. Unfortunately, too many of us have not always operated in complete surrender to the Spirit, and our critical eye has become a source of a disparaging, condescending disposition, a faultfinding temperament, and a "my-way-or-the-highway" attitude. We all know people who exhibit these characteristics, but rarely are we able to see them in ourselves.
In my experience, a strong personality, coupled with a critical eye and lack of spiritual maturity, is a recipe for inner frustration and lack of peace. It is a place I never again wish to visit.
If you have not struggled in this area, you may not understand why someone else would. If you have received freedom from such bondage, you understand the tremendous pressure that has been relieved from your being, and you are enjoying the emancipation that follows. If you are currently operating under a judgemental nature and spirit, with little regard for God's work and leadership in the lives of others, you may underestimate (or even fail to understand) the depths of deception to which Satan has taken you.
Through the process of time that God has allowed me to see a clear portrait of myself, He has also graciously enabled me to accept that some things are simply part of my personality and He is constantly teaching me to channel those negative tendencies into positive attributes. It is a daily choice I must make, and it gets easier each day.
Back to the "discouraged perfectionist". Those who know me well probably laugh when they think of "perfectionist" as a description of "Stephanie". For a long time I didn't understand many things about my own makeup. I rarely have a tidy-enough house, I procrastinate, I am notoriously two minutes late for everything, and my kids sometimes have unkempt hair, long fingernails, and a runny nose. This barely scratches the surface of my imperfections, but it's a start. How that all fit with the typical firstborn/perfectionist philosophy, I hadn't the slightest idea!
When Dr. Lehman's "The First Born Advantage" hit bookshelves, I couldn't wait to read it, because it marketed itself with some of the answers to many questions that I had. I wasn't disappointed...Dr. Lehman introduced me to the "discouraged perfectionist" (whose description I clearly fit), and I have since been able to give attention to some of the areas of my life that were troubling me, and throw under the bus some of the things Satan had been using to discourage or distract me. Typically, my mind has operated in a very black and white (nothing to do with race) manner. I like definite lines. Grey areas are nerve wracking to me. Give me boundaries, lists, written goals, etc......yes, I'm very firstborn! How difficult it was for me to realize that God did not make everyone like He made the typical firstborn (or functional firstborn)! He created each of us differently, with personalities that would serve us well in our particular area of ministry or vocation. He expects different things of different individuals. These differences are visible in our decision making, our reactions, our personal motivation, and yes, our level of spiritual growth (especially as seen with the human eye).
So much of my discontent had roots in the idea that God expected out of everyone else exactly what He expected out of me (wow...isn't this a pretty common occurrence!), and that especially if I felt someone was making a ridiculous decision or even violating a Biblical principle, I could rightly pass judgement upon their choices, whether verbally to others (in a "Godly" manner, of course), or just simply in my own heart. How easy it is to rationalize these small, yet sinful manifestations in our lives!
It is very clear to me that since His revelation of these issues in my life, God has placed specific tests in my way. Some I have passed, some I have failed miserably. This is where the "But, Lord, I don't like it!" comes in. I know He is challenging me, making sure that I am conforming to His likeness, and it isn't always the most pleasant of experiences.
It is amazing to me that within the last year I have faced more personal criticism, to my knowledge, than in any other year. God knows I hate negative criticism, and I have grown to hate it more because it is the enemy of my own soul.
The most recent round came to my attention early on a recent Sunday morning with a phone call from a pastor's wife who is my friend, and thought it wise to let me know what the rumor mill was spreading about me and my family. Quite honestly, I was surprised that little 'ole me would even be interesting enough for a conversation, but I guess with a little embellishment, I made a good story...lol. I was kind of sad, not that I really care about what they said...my life is pretty much an open book and I live to please God and His Word as it applies to my life, but my sadness was more toward those involved. Knowing that a critical eye can so easily lead to a critical spirit, and then on into conversations that aren't even truthful, I wish I could somehow convey to young Christians the danger of traveling that path. I'm thankful that God allowed me, sooner than later, to realize my natural tendencies and begin to put a blinder on that critical eye before it progressed to its natural end.
Maybe you can relate to parts or all of this post. I would encourage you to immediately begin asking God to show you a picture of your heart as He sees it. Remove yourself from situations and people that heighten tendencies toward this behavior. Strive to see others as God sees all of us...through eyes of mercy, grace, and unbelievable love!