I sat in the office of my counselor. I was stressed. A perfectionist. A time bomb of emotions waiting to explode. I’d been going to counseling for a couple of weeks already and it had been beneficial. It was good to just talk about what was going on in my life. As much as I love talking, I hate opening up, so admitting that perfectionism is actually a really big struggle for me, even to a professional.
She had a beautiful black and white photo hanging on her wall. “Look at that photo,” she said. “What would it look like if there were only the pure black and the pure white colors? Nothing else?”
I thought for a moment, mentally erasing anything that wasn’t truly black and truly white, operating and imaginary Photoshop on the picture in my head. “There’s not much left,” I answered. “You don’t really know what the picture is. If anything, it’s a little more frightening.”
My counselor nodded. “Do you think it’s as beautiful?”
Of course it wasn’t. Without everything else, the photo would be stark. Empty. Harsh.
“Grace is found in the shades of gray.”
It’s a lesson I will never forget and a lesson I always struggle to remember. I’m still a perfectionist. That hasn’t changed. Sure, I’m learning not to beat myself up any time I do anything slightly wrong. I’m learning not to hate myself for not being “good enough.” I still stumble, though. I still forget that I am not expected to be perfect and no one close to me is actually trying and waiting to make me fail.
I love black and white photography. I took the photo above on my trip to South America last summer and the second I saw it in black and white, I knew I had something special. It won third place in the visual arts category of our university’s student literary journal. I’m incredibly proud of that picture, and I should be. It’s a good photo.
And yet, if it were all black or all white, there would be something lost. Grace is found in the shades of gray.
Many times this perfectionism that I struggle with impacts my view of God’s grace. I expect God to be harsh with me because I am harsh with myself. I failed. I am angry at myself. God must be displeased with me. I can’t seem to stop sinning or struggling with another sin, so clearly God has stopped loving me. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough for Him. Of course, I am inherently sinful. I am told this but I need no reminding because I am always and painfully aware of how I was born into sin and that sin has separated me from God.
When you speak it into words like that, it sounds wrong. And it is. The focus is on me and my failings. While I may be saying that I am not good enough for God I am living that God is not good enough for me. He is not big enough to love me even with my failings. His love is conditional. This thinking is so wrong and yet it is so easy to live out. It is so easy to assume that we are separated from God even after we have begun a relationship with Jesus.
Even now that has put me at points where I have wondered, “Why try?” Why try if I will never be good enough for God? Why love God when He will always be displeased with me? Is there a point in loving someone who is constantly disappointed in you?
Practically speaking the answer to that would be no. If I had a friend who I felt was constantly disappointed in me and frustrated with me, I wouldn’t be friends with that person. Trying so hard to please the other person when they are distant and disapproving is not a healthy relationship. I’ve been there. Why should I love a God who only responds to me when I’m doing good?
Thankfully, that’s not who God is. He doesn’t love us in the pureness of black and white. He shows us grace in the gray areas. In areas of uncertainty. He leans in close and whispers, “You are my child, and I love you.” We don’t have to be good enough for God, because He loves us no matter what. He didn’t stop loving me because I accidentally swore at the guy who cut me off in traffic. He didn’t stop loving me because I forgot to make a phone call. He didn’t stop loving me because I hated myself.
He never stopped loving me in the first place.
I show myself grace in the gray areas because God has shown me grace in everything. I speak these things because I know how easy it is to assume that God is bored with you or tired of you or is laughing at you because you are a mess. God is love. And even in those darkest places, in the deepest depths of our soul that we are ashamed to admit exist, God leans in and whispers, “You are mine. I love you.”
Perhaps it isn’t perfection we ought to strive for. Perhaps we must simply learn to rest in the rhythm of God’s love.