The Danger of Self-Acceptance

12:46 PM

I like going to the dentist's and the doctor's office. (1) It's nice to go out and sit by yourself. An excuse to sit and think, to sit and read. Yes, please. (2) Magazines. I love reading magazines. Especially those that don't line up with my worldview. Obviously, it's interesting to see what constitutes fashion these days (and I just might have justified wearing scrunched knee socks with high heels because of it). But I just love people. I love their ideas, their stories, their opinions. Even if they're blatantly wrong. So? I want to see other takes on the world that fall outside the typical boxes I run in. They point out things I never thought about. (Also, their writing often rocks the socks off Christian writers. Sorry, guys. This is what happens when you don't feel the pressure to moralize: you write great slice-of-life pieces.)

Last dental visit, I got interested in a Redbook magazine article on a messy but wonderful marriage. The conclusion ran along the lines of, I scream at my husband and hate his Christmas celebrations because I'm Jewish. If I just embraced all that mess instead of trying to fit my marriage into the experts' Perfect Relationship Manuals, I might actually enjoy this marriage thing. I just sat there after finishing the article. Yes, we should give ourselves grace. Yes, relationships are messier than we want them to be. Yes, real relationships probably won't line up with the experts' books on everything. No way will two different human beings be 100% compatible -- and that's okay. (Don't listen to eHarmony.)

At the same time...I wanted to tell her to keep going. That her marriage could be more. That love was hard and messy, but it's meant to change us. That there are winners and losers in compromise, but that sacrifice is worth it. That love is about sacrifice. I felt stumped thinking these things. I didn't want to heap more guilt onto an already frazzled wife. I mean, I'm not even married. But just from my limited exposure to love, I knew that throwing away all constraints and all motivations to change, and just accepting the way I and my relationships worked was recipe for, well, a pretty yucky life.

The problem with sin is that it's miserable. Reformed catechisms always say "sin and misery" in one breath. Now I get it. Sin just makes a mess out of everything. And it's exhausting to combat, because it's literally everywhere -- in my attitude, in my boyfriend's attitude, in our actions, in our desires, in our interactions, in our conversations. If we walk away from a conversation without feeling the least bit miffed or the need to run to a confessional, we're shocked. It's so easy to sin. Even the consequences of feeling miserable and making your loved ones miserable don't stop sin from being so easy and natural. Normal.

Which makes me get this Redbook contributor's exasperation with trying to change. She's more honest than most people: can't we just give up on trying to mold ourselves and marriages into something more perfect and just accept the fact that we have, do, and always will scream at each other? Can't we just go on sinning, go on being imperfect, and just recognize that it's normal? Can't we just make normal okay?

It occurred to me that this is why God gives us rules. Sin makes us so miserable, but it's so normal. Ironically enough, the misery won't motivate us to get out of the misery of sinning -- so we keep sinning. Left to ourselves, we'll end up accepting things about us and our lives that we should not accept -- not just because they're wrong but because they're miserable. We'll stop there, accepting the very things that make life and love hard, and we'll never go on to experience true goodness or purity or love or anything worth fighting for.

I worry for this poor, burnt-out woman. Untethering herself from any outside accountability and motivation -- whether it's God's Word or just expert advice -- leaves her without hope. It forces her to embrace imperfection as the ultimate reality. I've been there. Acceptance of unreality just leads to disillusionment.

I'm learning to walk the fine line of acknowledging the normalcy of sin in my life without accepting it and the misery it brings. I need to acknowledge sin's normalcy, or I'll throw in the towel and not budge -- I'm worse than anybody, nobody else struggles with this, I give up. And I need to not accept that as my future. I need to know my imperfections in order to embrace striving toward perfection. Don't accept yourself the way you are if it means accepting sin and the misery that comes with it. Don't accept non-reality: as a child of God, you were created for perfection; you are a new creation. Accept the reality of hope -- a future of perfect love. It takes courage to believe that, because perfection isn't often (ever?) achieved on earth. It takes courage to plunge back in to the fight, to be held accountable by outside sources that sometimes discourage us, to sometimes feel judged and exhausted by demands we don't feel like we can meet.

That's another reality to acknowledge: we can't meet the experts' opinions and Scripture's demands. Not by ourselves. But we can love well and live well if we accept the guidance, conviction, and support of the Holy Spirit.

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3 impressions

  1. I like this post a lot. The words and concepts we use are very different, but I think - I hope - that I am understanding your main point correctly. If I am, then I agree completely.

    Many times I have had someone say to me, "You can't be perfect. No one is perfect." Some people add, "You are just making yourself unhappy." I am well aware that, as you say, perfection is rarely if ever achieved on this earth. However, I disagree with people who seem to conclude that it directly follows from that awareness that there is no point in striving for perfection. I think we should keep struggling, keep trying to overcome our flaws, keep trying to be better, just a little bit closer to perfect. Sure, we'll never actually get there and sure, it's much easier to just give up and decide to be happy with wherever and however we are at the moment. But I am sure we will end up much farther along trying to reach perfection, even knowing we never will, than if we settle for "good enough".


  2. That's EXACTLY what I'm getting at! It's a weird balance of continually striving and struggling but not despairing and beating yourself up for being imperfect.

  3. This post was very insightful for me, and helped put into words some of what we all will probably feel and experience at some time in life.
    I know what I say has been said before, but I want to let you know I appreciate your posts.

    ~ Della


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