If I'm honest, starting new things is terrifying to me.
Getting on a bike for the first time is scary. Driving away to college is scary. Staring at a blank page that needs to be filled is scary.
At any given point in time, my mind is spinning with ideas (freelance gigs, church plant plans, ministry ideas, blog posts, etc.), but many of these things I don't finish (or even start!).
As I've taken the time to process through why I do this, I've realized it comes down to two central fears: the fear of being imperfect and the fear of being vulnerable.
I'm certain that I'm not alone in these fears. In fact, I've seen how they trickle into hidden areas of all our lives.
I've seen similar fear in the friend who keeps conversations surface-level because she's scared to share the mess of her past. The couple in small group who asks for prayer for their grandma's sister's dog because they're terrified to admit that their marriage is in shambles. The girl who never finishes or shares a project because it's “just. not. good. enough. yet.”
Most of us are scared of failing. Scared of imperfection and, more so, of letting people see the ways we don't quite measure up.
I get it.
We want to portray the best side of ourselves. We want people to see the good in us, particularly the parts we have prettied and perfected and made worth presenting. But I think if this is all people see of us they are sorely missing out. In fact, we are missing out.
PRIDE AND PERFECTIONISTS
What is at the root of these fears? Why do we have such a hard time being vulnerable and revealing our imperfections? The answer is not a pretty one, but it’s one we must recognize. Our fear in sharing the ugly, imperfect parts of ourselves is due to the deeply-rooted sin of pride.
Pride is a feeling of satisfaction derived from one’s achievements, qualities, or possessions. Pride takes pleasure in being noticed, approved, and appreciated. Pride does not like to be seen as weak, small, or less than.
But the Gospel message is distinctly contrary to pride. The Christian life is not one of exaltation but of degradation. The believer is not called to a life of admiration but of humiliation. Just like Jesus.
We serve a God who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus lived a life of lowness, and he calls us to do the same.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:3).
Like he does with most things in the Christian walk, Jesus flips the ordinary way of thinking and doing on its head. Throughout Scripture, Christ makes it clear that the way up is down, to be first is to be last, to be exalted is to be humbled (Matt. 23:12; Prov. 29:23).
In our desire to cover up the less-than-perfect parts of our lives, we are actually allowing pride to sneak in. When we seek to present a polished self, we are seeking, at least subtly, to be exalted.
In contrast, as we reveal the messed-up and broken parts of ourselves, we begin to understand what humility is. We begin to see, in a small way, what it looked like for the Christ to empty himself of honor.
Through my embarrassing typos, the ups-and-downs of my imperfect ministry, the messiness of my marriage, and my foot-in-mouth conversations I am made low . . . and yet Jesus is exalted.
THE BEAUTY OF VULNERABILITY
Pressing into my mind lately have been remembrances of how I have seen the Lord work graciously through my admittance of my imperfection in the context of Christian community.
I can recall moments of vulnerability that have led to another feeling safe enough to share their own failures. I have had glimpses of grace when I have admitted my shortcomings and my need, and in response have seen the understanding dawn on someone’s face that they too can cease striving and simply trust in a God who redeems.
“But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you” (Jer. 12:3, my emphasis).
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
You see, in the most beautiful way, imperfection is an invitation.
It is an invitation into deep and real community. When we reveal our imperfections, share vulnerably about our mistakes, and allow our true selves to be seen: we extend an invitation to others. This is an invitation into deeper relationship. An invitation to allow someone else to share their own imperfections.
When we share ourselves—our imperfect, unfinished, messy selves—there is beauty there. There is true recognition of another’s struggling condition and opportunity for genuine relationship.
THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL
Imperfection is also an invitation into the essence of the Gospel. To allow myself to be truly seen as broken, sinful, and desperately needy is precisely what is essential to salvation.
Broken. Imperfect. Known. Loved.
It is only when I truly see the depth of my darkness that I am pressed deeper into Christ. It is only when I admit my shortcoming that I am reminded of his character—his grace and goodness and surpassing worth. It is when we truly acknowledge our imperfections that we are invited into the abundant grace of God.
We can find joy knowing that our Father does not look for moral competency—for crossed “t’s” and dotted “i’s” and straight-line walking. Instead, he takes our imperfections and sins, he lovingly deals with them on the cross, and he promises to walk with us as we seek to follow him and know him more.
Still, my words will not be perfect. My ministry will fail. My marriage will be messy. My friendships will be difficult.
And the same goes for you. The "standard" you set for yourself will never be met. Your striving for perfection will only lead to exhaustion and pride.
Nevertheless, we must bravely pursue vulnerability, embrace imperfection, and sink into the grace that is waiting on the other side.
God’s mercy triumphs over our mess. His grace saves and sustains. It redeems and it reminds. It is forever and it is also right now. In every moment, over and over and over. Despite every imperfection, grace is available in abundance.
Lauren Bowerman lives just outside of Denver, CO but has been privileged to call many cities, states, countries, and continents home. Her transient life has cultivated in her a deep love for diverse cultures and people. As a writer and a pastor’s wife, she is passionate about encouraging God’s people through writing on her blog and through discipleship.