In school, especially in middle school and the early part of high school, I was a decent student. So around the middle of my sophomore year or so, I began to relax a bit on the studying and the academic side of things. I thought, “I’ve got it.”
But my grades dipped. It never got out of hand where I was afraid of failing classes – except for once in college, never EVER take geology. But my lack of preparation led to not as good a grade as I probably was capable of. I put myself in a situation where I was not capable of getting straight As.
If you’re not capable of something, you shouldn’t expect yourself to do, especially perfectly. There’s very little you can actually “luck into” if you don’t prepare appropriately.
One of the most dangerous expectations we can have of ourselves is thinking that we will be perfect or do it all correctly. Mostly because it’s not even necessary.
Paul was someone who, at one point, thought he was perfect. His words in Phillippians 3:4b-6,
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal,a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Paul thought he had perfection. But what did he realize? Verses 7-8:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
His perfection he thought he had didn’t matter. All Paul needed was Christ and the assurance that he knew Christ. Christ was the only perfection he needed. Likewise, all we need is Christ. We don’t need to be perfect. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect or want ourselves to be perfect. Because that’s dangerous thinking.
We make expectations when we think we need something. And truth is, we don’t need to be perfect. All we need is to be reminded of Christ’s perfection, and we can expect that from Him because it never changes. I think it’s even dangerous to say, “I’m trying to be perfect,” because if we repeat that too often, we’ll believe that’s what it means to be a Christian. And it’s not.
Now, we should seek to be obedient and not use our imperfections as an excuse to just do whatever and not seek after pursuing Christ. But we shouldn’t be surprised when we screw up. It’s in our nature. We should just fall back on the beauty of the Gospel. The Gospel is there for when we do screw up.
It’s inevitable. We will screw up. That’s why the Gospel is so important, and must be the lens through which we see ourselves. And it should temper our expectations because we don’t need to expect perfection from ourselves.
To be honest with you, self-expectation is one of the most crippling things you can have. I’ve lived a long time with high expectations for myself. And it’s not a terrible thing unless it’s wrapped in the Gospel. For a long time, my high expectations of myself were not wrapped in the Gospel. I didn’t have grace as my backdrop. And that can lead you to a life filled with guilt and shame.
I’ll wrap with Christian rapper Braille’s verse from the song “Framed Stretch Marks” by Propaganda:
Yeah, the birth pains have changed
Stretched to the limits, stretched marks from giving birth
To the death of a cynic and cinematic
My emotions like motion pictures imagine
A world with no beauty in it, all I see is the negative
Undeveloped negatives, nothing worth framing in my frame of mind
It’s like an empty gallery with white painted walls
All the flaws are hidden, I just wanna adjust my focus
Cause all I ever noticed is the thorns on the roses
And it’s moments like this when my hope is misguided
And I’m looking for perfection in a place I can’t find it
My body bears the marks of missing the mark daily
The only hope I hold is knowing that my God will never fail me
Even though I fall short and that’s no tall tale
Now I drive my point home with that new car smell
I see beauty in the scars, like colors in a collage
The greatest love gave me life through His death on the cross.