I’ve always expected perfection from myself. But I’m always disappointed. My husband tells me I’m unrealistic since none of us are perfect except Christ. I know I fall dismally short of His example, but from an early age, that has been my longing.
I grew up in a loving home filled with laughter, music, and hard work. Jesus and what we were learning from His Word were regular topics of conversation. My parents were strict with us girls and with themselves. The high expectations sometimes elevated the stress in our home.
As a child, I had a tender conscience and wanted to be good. I remember the Sunday Dad took me to the cool basement of our Nashville, Tennessee church after service and said, “Beth, you don’t have to go to the altar every Sunday. God forgave you the first time.” Yet at the age of five, I already felt the heaviness of sin. I’m grateful that awareness kept me from wandering too far from God.
As a teenager, I compared my figure to the women on television and in magazines. Aiming for a perfect body, I alternately binged and starved myself from my senior year of high school through my early days as a mom. After every relapse, I repented in shame and disgust.
Again, God used my experiences to build a dependence on Him. I feel a kinship with Apostle Paul every time I read of his thorn in the flesh. As I continue to wrestle between healthy eating and overindulgence, God has used me to encourage others who struggle with food addiction.
My quest for perfection spilled into my marriage, writing career, parenting, and ministry. I looked confident and accomplished on the outside, but insecurities plagued my every step. I strove to be a perfect wife and a pristine example for our two beautiful girls. I loved sewing, baking, and caring for my family and home. When God called me to homeschool I felt completely inadequate, but our ten years together were joyous, rewarding years. I especially loved the extra time with them to explore questions of faith. For the first time in my life, I felt secure in my identity and competence.
Then my world shattered. My husband declared he didn’t love me anymore. Any illusions I had of being the perfect wife drained away. In suffocating pain and confusion I clung to God like never before. Our divorce was final six months later, just before our twenty-first anniversary.
I learned some key things in the years that followed. Love is not earned by being perfect, but because two people choose to love each other through all the seasons of life. That’s why our wedding vows say, “For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health.”
God, with tender mercy and perfect love, put me together and took me deeper into Him. In the years since, I’ve been able to comfort and encourage other women devastated by divorce, with the comfort I received from God. And I’m writing a book to help guide them through each stage of recovery.
God blessed me with a wonderful second marriage (fanfare and angels singing). Our love for each other, even after twelve years of marriage, fills me with joy and wonder. We stood together when my husband’s children initially rejected me. When two of our kids struggled with addictions I was tempted to blame it on myself. God showed me the truth about their choices in His Word, through the ministry of Celebrate Recovery, and the writings of other parents of prodigal children.
No one, save Christ, is perfect.
Then why did Jesus tell His followers in the Sermon on the Mount to: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, NIV)? It’s an impossible command! I’ve certainly learned that from a lifetime of trying to attain perfection.
But then I looked closer at the context of Jesus’ instruction. He described how our Father loves even His enemies who persecute Him. How He generously sends rain and sunshine to everyone, whether they know Him or not. God greets even His enemies and invites them to come and let Him love them, even when they’ve done nothing but abuse and curse Him. This is how we are to be perfect—in love—unconditional, sacrificial, generous, tenacious.
Our hearts can be perfect as we reach out in love to others in God’s Spirit, even when our performance isn’t. What an abundant life! To be loved and accepted because of the perfect love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now I can live with confidence, knowing I don’t have to achieve perfectly; instead, I can enjoy the journey as I grow in my relationship with God.
Beth Vice is a wife, author, speaker, mom, mother-in-law, grandma, and Jesus seeker. She loves taking care of her husband Kelly and the home they share on the Oregon coast. She teaches their Sunday morning small group and leads critique workshops at Oregon Christian Writers conferences, where she serves as the In-Person Critique Group Coordinator. Beth has six books currently available and is working on the next two—a divorce recovery book for women and a Bible study on Revelation. Beth has a heart for women; she has found new delight in leading retreats at she and Kelly’s vacation rental at Black Butte Ranch, and wherever else God might lead her. She blogs at Epiphany: http://www.bethvice.com/. Beth loves getting outside for hikes and gardening, but prefers snuggling inside with a good book or coffee with a friend, in nasty weather.