There aren’t many leaders who have never faced the nagging feeling of being “not good enough”. Some of us have tousled with these feelings only in our lowest moments of disappointment, and some of us tango with the demons of perfectionism day in and day out. I am in that second camp, someone who has grappled with unrealistic and harsh expectations of myself for most of my life.
I read a great book by Holley Gerth recently that challenged and changed my perspective on “perfect” in a great way. I think of perfect for my own standards as flawless, without mistake or blemish, consistently prepared, meeting needs, and responding appropriately. Instead, Holley explained the very practical nature of the word “perfect” as it is used in Scripture. The word is defined more accurately as “whole, mature, and complete.” She writes that this could be appropriately used to say that the oak tree is the “perfection” of an acorn.
I was so thrilled to read that definition, one that made the idea of perfection so much less frightening and foreign to me as a follower of Jesus. It’s not about being protected from life and mistakes and learning, the way I seem to think it is. Instead, it’s this idea that the weathering of life, like storms battering a tree, cause us to grow towards an admirable strength and maturity.
Here’s where I get that imagery in the Bible:
“But blessed is the...woman who sticks with God. They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers— never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8, MSG)
This is the image that we get of godly maturity and wholeness. Like trees that have deep roots, we are to be anchored steadfastly in God, trusting Him because we have seen His faithfulness over and over and over again, and because we have been paying attention to Him.
I know for me, what most often tempts me away from keeping my attention fixed on God is the distraction of controlling things myself. When I forget that God’s idea of maturity and perfection is about His plans, not mine, then all my attention stays on my performance, my decisions, and my perceptions.
As leaders, do we spend more time wondering about God’s perception of us, or our audience's? Do we focus on meeting God’s expectations of us, or our own? I can get so wrapped up in meeting my own standards of perfection, that I forget about what’s most important.
Those verses in Isaiah describe a woman who trusts God, who has been firmly planted in Him, and who remains calm, serene, and without worry as tough seasons come. This is the kind of woman and leader that I want to be. And I think this comes from letting go of my ideas of perfection and control, and focusing on how God is drawing my roots deeper, my foundation stronger, and my peace more transcendent, not by avoiding life’s storms, but by hanging on to Him tightly through them.