Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Letting go of perfection

I got a question from a reader today.  The question is basically how a person can be vulnerable with others, regardless of whether they are believers or not.  This reader grew up in a faith community that had the expectation that a follower of Christ's witness to the world would include something close to perfection.  There are two main things that I want to say in response:

First, I think that the first step to building mutual relationships with people who might not have the same beliefs as you is to take away the distinction you have in your mind between "Christian friends" and "non-Christian" friends. There may be some different values, etc with people who don't believe the same things, but those differences don't have to be a bar to the friendship. I think that you have to view all people as people and have an attitude of learning from and walking with them.  Similarly, I think you should be seeking to positively influence all those around you, regardless of what they currently believe about God.  Sometimes this is difficult because we want to be liked and appreciated, so we tend to present those aspects of ourselves that are most like the people around us.  But I think it's important to recognize that, outside of the church, people rarely judge you for your decisions as long as (1) you aren't hurting anyone, (2) you aren't trying to make them do what you believe is right, and (3) your beliefs and actions are consistent with one another.

Second, I understand the church-induced perception that you have to act in a certain way to be a "witness" to the world.  But in my experience, using this I've-got-it-all-together facade hinders your interpersonal relationships and can de-motivate peopel to seek God out.  We definitely are image-bearers, but the image that we present is not supposed to be perfection--that's impossible. Instead, the standard is humility and vulnerability and dependence on God. The bad choices we make, the bad attitudes we display, the normal human stuff that we do gives us an opportunity to model what true reliance on God to be our help and our salvation looks like. Being real like this also makes being a follower of God achievable, for lack of a better word. We don't want to communicate that following God means that someone has to get their life together before coming to him. And actually taking the time to apologize and be humble about the ways in which we hurt people can be a really powerful way to reach out. You are basically putting the other person in a position of power in the relationship, rather than being the one who has it all together.  This can be a really powerful way to invite someone into your life.

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