Lent, Valentine’s Day and Giving Up On Perfection

Happy Valentine’s Ash Wednesday…

For those of you who chose to give up sugar for Lent this year, I’m afraid you didn’t plan ahead. Look at the bright side, you could smear dark chocolate on your forehead and totally get away with it. For those of you who don’t really celebrate either tradition, I’m with you.

I’m Lent free for thirty-five of my thirty-six years. I would be a perfect thirty-six for thirty-six but I dated a Catholic girl in high school (the things you do in the name of “love”). Now before you get sideways, I respect everyone’s personal freedom to celebrate their religious traditions. I’m just not fond of them myself. But lest you judge my love for Jesus, please know that I have a Methodist upbringing, I dated a Catholic once and my wife grew up Baptist. I’m a sort-of a Methodically-Baptized, Semi-Reformed Charismatic—my bases are covered.

I know, Mom. I’m being a bit facetious. But the pressure of commitment is a bit burdensome. It all just feels too perfect. To think that I have to buy flowers and chocolates because I’m supposed to feels disingenuous. And to think that I’m supposed to give up something for the sake of tradition feels inauthentic. Sure, it may be noble to buy your significant other chocolates and mirror Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, but I’m tired of wearing nobility as a badge of honor.

But then again, maybe I will give up something for Lent this year. Maybe I’ll give up perfection.

The Pressure of Perfection

I was talking with a friend the other day who was flat-out exhausted. His business, his marriage and his faith were all suffering. That same day, I had a phone call with another friend who was wrestling with all the big questions. In both cases, the blanket of perfection was suffocating them. Instead of the freedom to live and love, they were stifled with getting everything right.

We put way too much pressure on ourselves for perfection. And oddly enough, no two institutions demand perfection quite like religion and marriage. I’m not sure how it started, but the stigma of perfection permeates both. In order to be religious and in order to have a great marriage, we feel like we have to be perfect.

That weight is both unbearable and unrealistic. In the end, it causes us to reject the institutions altogether because we believe they demand something that we can’t give. In short, we reject religion and marriage. But the danger in doing so is that we inadvertently miss out on faith and love.

While religion and marriage may demand perfection, faith and love are far from perfect. They’re messy, and they’re broken. Knowing that and learning to expect it makes all the difference.

Trade Perfection for Passion

Perfect is a demand that we simply cannot bear. In its pursuit, our actions become more about doing right than actually enjoying the experience. That robotic existence is unfulfilling at best and it robs us of passion. My marriage and my faith are far from perfect. But I’m ok with that and I’m grateful for the grace to live freely in each. Besides, I’m learning that I’d rather have a passionate life than a perfect one.

If you find yourself in a stale season, maybe it’s because you’ve put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. So, for Lent this year, take a break from the pressure of perfect and rekindle the passion underneath. And if that passion calls you to buy flowers and candy for the one your love, or if it leads you to abstain from something you enjoy as a way to draw closer to God, at least it will be authentic.

Trade perfection for passion. Yeah, I like the sound of that.

MH

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