It’s a slightly longer thought this week so why not grab yourself a brew before you settle in to read.
When I was at primary school I had a headmaster called Mr Ottowell. He was an older gentleman who had served in the Second World War. He wasn’t exactly conventional in the way he taught us; I probably ought to mention at this point that the national curriculum wasn’t introduced until part way through my time in Junior School (Key Stage 2). Despite it being a Church of England Primary School where it was expected that assemblies would be faith-based and the songs we sang would be hymns, Mr Ottowell delighted to regale us with wartime stories, teach us about wild flowers and sing songs with us from his army days (I’m pretty sure some of them had been edited to make them slightly more child friendly). He also had a number of sayings that he liked to teach us. One of his favourites was:
Good, better, best,
Never let it rest,
‘till your good is better,
and your better is best!
He would get us to chant this over and over again, getting faster each time. At the time this seemed right and perhaps a Christian statement. It didn’t feel dissimilar to some of the messages that I was learning in church as a child. It definitely fitted with some of the Victorian hymns and carols we used to sing. Every Christmas we would be left with the words from Once in Royal David’s City ringing in our ears:
“Christian children all must be,
mild, obedient, good as He.”
I suspect that has a lot more to do with the Victorian ideal of children being seen and not heard rather than anything that Jesus said.
The point of me telling you all of this is that sometimes things can sound like they are Christian ideals when they are not. For example, a mindfulness post popped up on my Facebook feed this morning and it said something along the lines of:
“You don’t need to be perfect,
you just need to do your best.”
It sounds wise at first reading and even Christian but I’m not sure it is. I can get on board with the first line. Absolutely, we are not called to be perfect, Jesus is the only one who is perfect and we won’t ever be perfect this side of eternity. That’s sort of the point of all that Jesus achieved on the cross. We can’t be perfect, however much we try but Jesus was perfect on our behalf (I’m sure the theologians among you will pick that apart but please indulge my incredibly simplified gospel).
I’m not convinced that doing our best all the time is any more possible than being perfect. Doing our best implies trying hard, being constantly conscious of our thoughts, motives and actions and choosing the most excellent course of action within our own limitations. Sounds biblical right? I’m not convinced. You see, trying our best all the time is ultimately quite stressful - believe me, I have tried it! It also somehow reduces our value and self-worth. We become people who are putting on an act, or a brave face all the time. This attitude also tells us that we are not quite good enough when we are being ourselves.
I think the Christian message is a little bit different to this. I believe that the Bible teaches us that God created us in His image and that he looks at us and says that we are his good creation. That is not to say that we don’t get things wrong, of course we do, and of course we need to think of others and behave well towards each other but I think there is a reason why this line from Bridget Jones’ Diary is considered to be one of the most romantic:
- Mark Darcy: I like you, very much.
- Bridget Jones: Ah, apart from the smoking and the drinking, the vulgar mother and... ah, the verbal diarrhoea.
- Mark Darcy: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.
There is something very freeing when we realise that we are loved just as we are. It frees us from having to be perfect or having to try our best all the time. Yes, there are situations when we do need to try our best (usually exams!) but more generally Christ calls us into freedom. Perhaps a favour we can all do ourselves today is to see the good in ourselves. To choose to see the unique goodness that we bring rather than focussing on those messages that tell us that we need to do better. Because the truth is, that (unless you are a serial killer or something like that) the reality is that you are loved, just as you are.
So why not take a break from striving and stressing today and let the words from Psalm 46:10 sink in:
“He (God) says: Be still and know that I am God”