My ninth post on topics ranging from holidays to the glory of a woman’s hair (and a man’s if it looks good!) to the pregnant girl who sat in front of me in senior English class.
Musicians and other artists struggle with a lot of emotional issues. Perhaps you’re friends with one or two and are saying, “Yeah, tell us something we don’t know.”* There are a number of such annoyances but one of the most frustrating artistic tendencies is perfectionism.
Excellence vs. Perfectionism
As a worship arts pastor, I discourage my musicians away from perfectionism to, instead, a pursuit of excellence that acknowledges mistakes and realizes that a perfect performance is a doomed aspiration. Artists can be so hard on themselves. I believe this accompanies artistic talent, pushing us to reach for higher heights in art. And as Christian artists, we should want, like court musicians, to play our best for our great King and Master Artist.
If not for perfectionism would any of the great artists (musicians, painters, writers, poets, dancers, actors, photographers, sculptors, etc.) have produced the masterpieces we treasure today? If not for perfectionism, wouldn’t art be mediocre? Wouldn’t all singing be a karaoke performance?
Even so, perfectionism is admittedly unattainable, whether in art or any other facet of life. Last week, I wrote about dealing with nagging feelings of guilt. On an intellectual level, we can accept the truth that we are no longer guilty until God’s Spirit begins to soothe away our emotional doubts. Some would say this is the place where you start to forgive yourself—that you need to, in fact.
Ah, a popular, contemporary solution to life’s problems: forgiving yourself (e.g. forgiveyourself.com). Fashionable but not found in Scripture. It’s a humanistic notion actually, one that elevates self. See, God’s forgiveness is ultimate, not my own. Pardoning myself holds no weight.
One of Jesus’ closest followers, John affirmed this truth:
Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. —1 John 3:18-20 ESV
“Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything” (v. 20 NLT).
The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet brought her condemned heart to Jesus and was encouraged: “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). When her heart tells her otherwise, she can return to the day Jesus looked into her eyes and reassured her with his love. He never said, “You need to forgive yourself.” No, no, he said:
Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. —Matthew 11:28 NIV
Rest from your accusing heart. Rest from your regrets. Rest from the voices that say you’ll never be worth anything, that your past has disqualified you. Rest from the relentless pursuit of perfectionism.
For a performing musician, there’s nothing more debilitating than knowing a great musician sits in the audience. Most people won’t notice your mistakes but they will. I realize, though, that at all times I play for an audience who lived perfectly but doesn’t expect me to. Knowing Jesus doesn’t require perfection, because he lived it for me, frees me to pursue excellence. I’m certain to flub some notes onstage and in life, but I’ve learned not that I need to forgive myself for being inadequate, but to rest confidently in God, who is greater than my heart and knows everything.
How about you? In what aspects of life are you vainly striving for perfection? Have you been told you need to forgive yourself and move on? In what ways do you need God’s rest?
I’d love to hear back from you, so click on the COMMENTS link near the title of this post. Comment using a profile or anonymously.
*I’m not sure if I ever say anything you don’t know. Maybe just a new way of saying it.