Christian Perfection: A Personal Story

be ye perfect

I am sure you have seen the bumper sticker I am not Perfect Just Forgiven. The Christian driver of the car is warning you ahead of time that he plans to drive like a non-Christian. As he cuts you off in traffic or changes lanes without a blinker, just remember he is not perfect, but, he is forgiven. I am quite certain that there are no perfect people. I have met some great examples of human character, but given enough time they will always show that their feet are made of clay. In the human realm, perfection does not exist and it seems quite clear to me that perfection does not exist in the spiritual realm either.

I have battled with perfectionism most of my adult life. Coupled with an obsessive-compulsive personality, the end result is that I have often set an impossible standard of living for myself. I crave order and structure. I demand answers. The TV has to be perfectly centered on the entertainment center. All of the cables must be hidden away so no one can see them. When I go to the doctors office or the store, I am quick to point out crooked signs. Polly laughs as I try to straiten out these hanging monuments to human laziness and imperfection. I am the type of person who people would love to have clean their house but can’t stand to be there while I am doing it because it would drive them crazy. I am the one person in America who still has the receipt from the lifetime-warranted $4.00 can opener purchased 5 years ago. Any of my six children will tell you that they have heard their father say to them countless times, everything has a place. That, and the Bruce Gerencser classic, do it right the first time.

My desk drawers are kept in perfect order, though thanks to declining health I’m finding it harder to keep every paper clip and rubber band in its proper place. My clothes must hang the same way, sorted by type of garment. When I buy a newspaper, I have to be the first one who reads it. Why? Everyone else messes up the paper. I like to read it first, making sure every section is in its proper order.

I obsess over the smallest of things. If something isn’t working right I will expend  hours attempting to fix it. I know all about the law of diminishing return, but I just know I can figure it out if I have enough time. This approach has served me well in many areas of my life. With significant amounts of time invested in figuring things out, I have become something of an expert on certain things (computers for example). Sadly, an increasing loss of cognitive function is ever-so-slowly robbing me of my storehouse of knowledge (and minutia).

I bought my first computer 24 years ago. I started out with a DOS Vtech 286 and have owned numerous computers since. Currently, I have a Windows-based desktop computer I built, along with an iPad Pro. While I, at times, have Luddite tendencies, I do love owning new technology. Whether it is a new camera or the latest, greatest offering from Apple, I invest significant time in learning everything I can about my new purchase.

I have broken, crashed, and screwed up more computers than I can count. Well, I could count them. Making lists of things is another thing l seem driven to do: how many jobs have I had, how many cars have I owned, how many houses have I lived in. That’s how my brain works. I don’t know that I understand it, it’s just how I am. If I’m sitting in the doctor’s office impatiently waiting for my savior to walk through the door, I will occupy myself with counting how many ceiling tiles there are or some other silly game. Polly, did you know there are 43 ceiling tiles in this room? No, I didn’t, she says, smiling as she returns to reading a six month old issue of People Magazine. Polly, did you know that the tiles on the one end of the room are a different size from the tiles of this side? No answer, just a smile as she returns to the latest on Brad and Angelina. Polly, did you…no smile this time. Time to silently play the ceiling tile game, I tell myself.

My three oldest sons have a plethora of stories they could tell about their fathers obsession with perfection and order. They’ve watched me go to great pains to make sure this or that is level. My need to make sure the church pulpit was exactly in the middle of the center aisle is legendary. Right down to 1/32 of an inch.  Back before we had HD television, I would obsess over cable roll in the TV picture. I’d check every connection, every cable, as I attempted to find the cause of the roll. While digital equipment has put an end to cable roll, rarely does a weekend go by when one of my sons  doesn’t make a joke about there being something wrong with the TV’s picture quality. Ah, fond memories.

In every area of my life I strive for perfection. It is a frequent topic of discussion during  my visits to my counselor  For all my striving to be perfect, I know I’m not. I have character flaws and shortcomings that are ever-present reminders of my imperfections. However, as any perfectionist will tell you, knowing you have imperfections just makes you try all the harder to be perfect.

Where did my drive for perfection come from? I wasn’t raised in a perfection-dominated home. My mother kept a clean, but cluttered house. If I wanted to play sports I could, but my parents never push me to excel. The same could be said for my schooling. There never was any pressure from my parents to be an exceptional student. By the time I got to high school I had learned how to get by, a smart kid, who with little effort, could get B’s and C’s. So where exactly did my perfectionist tendencies come from?

I am convinced that my battle with perfectionism and all its attendant problems stems from my religious upbringing. It goes something like this: A perfect God gave us a perfect Bible and he expects us to keep his commands perfectly. For 50 years, I believed the Bible to be the perfect Word of God. a direct revelation from God to me. In this perfect Bible are verses that speak of perfection. Verses such as:

These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. Genesis 17:1

Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 18:13

Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day. I Kings 8:61

And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. I Chronicles 28:9

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. Job 1:1

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. Psalm 37:37

For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. Proverbs 2:21

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Matthew 19:21

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you 2 Corinthians 13:11

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:17

One verse, above all others, reminded me of God’s standard for my life:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect Matthew 5:48

stop with the excuses

I remember thinking as a newly-saved, baptized, called to the ministry teenager, Wow! God demands and expects perfection from me. And according to the Bible this goal was attainable. 2 Peter 1:3 says that God gave me the Holy Spirit that would teach me EVERYTHING that pertains to life and godliness. God saved me, called me, and filled me with the Holy Spirit. He also gave me a perfect book, the Bible. Within its pages was all knowledge necessary to live a godly, holy, perfect life.

The new-fangled grace and love passivity that is quite common in Evangelical circles these days had no place in my life. James said “faith without works is dead.” While I knew that good works saved no one, I strove  to show my love, devotion, and dedication to God through my good works. As a pastor, I expected churches services to be orderly. I expected parishioners to give 100% of themselves to the work of God. I taught them, and tried to live by example, that God deserved 100% of our time, effort, and money. Think of what Jesus did for us, I often said. Should we not give our all for him?

Such thinking led to an outward form of righteousness. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but God demanded it as did many of the people  I pastored.  Over time, I learned the fine art of covering my imperfections. I didn’t commit awful, evil sins, but I did do things that were contrary to the perfect standard set forth in God’s infallible Word. This dualistic way of living kept me in constant turmoil. Right with God. Messed up, not right with God. Pray for forgiveness. Right with God. Rinse and repeat.

Eating too much, watching R rated movies, going to a strip club, fighting with my wife, not claiming love offerings on my tax return, buying non-essential stuff, not giving more money to the church, not praying enough, or not reading the Bible as much as I should–all these kept me in a seemingly constant state of repentance. This kind of thinking was reinforced every time I attended a preacher’s or Bible conference. Great men of God, great outwardly anyway, would rail against sinning preachers and their worldly habits. I’d hear their pronouncements and their words would cut me to the quick. You need to repent, I’d tell myself. So I would, and with the fervor of the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, I would strive for perfection once again, knowing that in a day, week, or month, I’d be right back on my knees pleading with God to forgive me of my sins.

Since leaving the ministry 12 years ago and leaving the Christianity 5 years later, I have been on a path towards regaining self-worth and personal identity.  Christian perfectionism robbed me of my humanity, and here I am, an aged, broken-down ex-preacher learning what it is to be human. My focus and standard of conduct have changed dramatically. My list of “sins” is much smaller than it ever has been.  Bit by bit I am learning to just live life and enjoy what comes my way. Above all, I’m working to embrace my imperfection. This isn’t easy and it doesn’t mean I no longer strive to be better in areas where I need improvement. The difference now is that the standard has changed. There’s no God to please and no church demanding perfection. I’m free to be who I am, a man who still craves order, but  who is learning that it is okay if the window valances at the dentist’s office are off-center or the pictures in the doctor’s waiting are crooked.

How about you? How you have a story to tell about how Christian perfectionism affected your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

The line about the dentist’s office window valances references the fact that all the valances at my dentist’s office were a quarter to a half an inch off-center. I asked the dental assistant is she ever noticed it and she said, No. She then looked at them and said, Why, you are right. They are crooked. She then laughed as I reached up with my cane and tapped a valance over to the right spot. Order restored, I thought to myself.

[signoff]

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42 Comments

  1. Karen the rock whisperer

    Wow. And you still seem reasonably sane. That perfection-failure-repentance merry-go-round would have driven me completely off the deep end.

    I had my own merry-go-round, but I wasn’t trying to please God necessarily; I was trying to justify my existence to myself. Depression, of course, insists that no amount of achievement is good enough, and all mistakes are clear proof that the sufferer is worthless. But it’s one thing to face the judgment of the Depression Dragon in my head, and a whole other thing to face the judgment of God. Part of the reason I only briefly attended an Evangelical church was that the sermons generally left me in tears, with my Depression Dragon crowing “See, God agrees with me that you’re worthless!”

    Oddly enough, though, I never was convinced my abject failures were worthy of hell; the Catholic training was too strong, and I was keeping the basic commandments, doing my best, and confessing my sins; the effort was surely sufficient to save my soul, despite my imperfections. Being worthless didn’t mean I got a pass about trying, so I tried my best, and I was raised to believe that was good enough for God.

    I realize the above logic doesn’t completely make sense, but that is the nature of depression. Fortunately, good drugs and hard psych work have me far away from that outlook now.

    Reply
  2. Kenneth

    Yeah, Bruce, the whole “sin, feel bad about, ask for forgiveness from God” gets old after a while. It may have even driven me into depression towards the end of my faith. I certainly do not miss it one bit! Having that God-fear stripped from me once I deconverted was a relief–one of the best decisions of my life. Now I no longer feel guilty all the time. Not only that, but if I were to count the number of “sins” while I still believed, I’m sure it is less now than ever before. I truly believe when you obsess over certain “sins” from the Bible, it actually makes the “sin” more frequent. I guess thinking about it all the time is why. I no longer care anymore, so it isnt really on my mind now. I mean, I still try to be a humanist of course, but these conflicting ideas I always had on what I thought was wrong vs what the Bible says is finally over. I think this is one of the worst things about trying to live a Christian lifestyle. I also had to deny all scientific evidence of how humans came to be, which helped to aid me in my deconversion. I was tired of fooling myself and feeding wishful thinking.

    Reply
  3. TLC

    Oh, yeah. I remember the constant turmoil of examining every particle of my life so I would be “right with God,” and I wouldn’t “stray from His path.” One day when I was knee-deep in this, I was editing a group photo and taking the glare out of people’s glasses. To do this, I had to blow up the photo to 1600% or more and work pixel by pixel — because I had to make it PERFECT!!!! And then it hit me: “You’re pixellating.” Exactliy what I was doing with my life. I needed to look at the true view and see the entire picture. The blown-up, over-examined version was so distorted it didn’t make sense. And at the end of the day, if a pixel wasn’t perfect, no one could see it anyway.

    Adding to this mess was that I was also learning “practice the presence of God” and “pray constantly.” The inner voice never stopped! And didn’t stop, for many years. Finally, this spring, I got sick of all the noise and made a conscious effort to tell it to SHUT UP. I was overwhelmed with peace.

    The purpose of preaching perfection isn’t to help you be sinless or closer to God, or live a “better Christian life (TM).” It’s to keep you so preoccupied that you don’t question the bullshit you’re being taught.

    Reply
  4. Melody

    For me, my perfectionism was tied to my religion and also to this huge fear of failing. I still fight with that quite often. This idea that if it isn’t perfect, I might as well not do it all is very limiting, yet also quite strong. Fear of failing can completely paralyse me and often has, so I personally see perfectionism mostly as a bad thing. Yes, it helps me to strive to do good work in whatever I do, but it more often than not makes me back out before I even begin… Basically feeding fatalism.

    With the Holy Spirit indwelling we don’t have to sin anymore: that is what I was told. Christians still do sin quite often but they don’t have to anymore, as they are no longer bound by it, making it all the more wrong when you do. It seems to me that it is precisely Christians that are most bound by sin, because of their constant attention and focus on it. It was one of those things that didn’t add up. Jesus had made us free but I hardly ever felt the freedom of faith…

    So I try to teach myself that good enough is good enough. That I am not perfect, that I don’t have to be perfect to be a good person, or lovable or anything like that. That I can only do my best and nothing more and that failing is human anyway. That I am not a robot and don’t have to perform perfectly. It is hard to believe that though.. I know it rationally but emotinally I still feel that I’m not good enough quite often.

    Like Karen also mentioned: I often feel like I have to earn my right to live, that I am a burden otherwise, that I don’t deserve to be around unless I am always usefull. It is quite frightening and horrible to feel like that. I also know quite a number of people in my (extended) family who feel/ have felt like that and I’m pretty sure that a very strict, and though not theologically ‘works-based;’ in reality very much works-based relgions hasn’t helped on bit. Or rather has done more harm than good.

    Reply
  5. Lynn123

    I think Christian perfectionism affects some but not others. You have all these different personalities sitting there hearing the gospel message three times a week, week after week after week.

    I had problems with self-worth, an inborn negative-thinking ability, was analytical, a worrier. I listened carefully to the sermons and Sunday School teachers and to the preachers at chapel when I attended a Christian school for 9th grade. If a preacher said I should feel bad, I felt bad. If he said I should be joyful, I felt guilty or worried about my salvation since I didn’t have the “joy” that others seemed to have. I never considered the fact of personality back then. That’s one huge problem with the Bible-there’s no accounting for personality-you just hear that every Christian is to be joyful, never worry, always trusting, etc. across the board. If I couldn’t do that, I thought, “wow, I must not be saved; I don’t feel like they feel.”

    IFB churches and their messages were very harmful to me. I always read self-improvement books, but also noticed that many people didn’t seem to feel a need to improve themselves or change themselves in any way. In other words, there was a big difference between me and them. Very confusing to me.

    I so agree with the person above who said focusing on a sin makes you more likely to do it-it’s really human nature, why can’t they see this?

    Thank you, Bruce, for showing how being a perfectionist can have advantages that others admire-but it can be quite a weight to carry and bring much frustration and feelings of failure.

    I guess the main thing that strikes me is the different ways people are affected or not affected by Christian perfectionism. One person says, “Great! God’s in charge, he’s wonderful, I’m happy and carefree, he forgave my sins, really likes me! Amen!” Another person says, “Wow, I’m guilty, I’m bad, I’m a worm, how will I ever please him, why don’t I feel like the others do, they must have something I don’t have, why, after hearing about people going to hell, God’s wrath, etc. can they instantly smile, shake hands, go about their day til next week when they sit thru another sermon? I’m so confused! I don’t understand how to do the Christian life!!”

    Reply
  6. Brian

    Because God isn’t, there is no answer to my diatribe or weeping regrets. I carry a lifelong growl and often find myself fancying the idea of a world free of churches. I understand that there are people who honestly try to do good and who are also churchy but I think they would be as human without the real estate. I just got banned from Doug Wilson’s mablog because his Jesus that bites back does not sit well with me and his shallow, self-righteous support of abusers makes me sick. I consider his need to ban me, something to be content with…. there are few places I belong and Doug Wilson’s blog is surely not one. Anyway, back to the subject at hand, the perfectionist, obssessed and compulsed biped.
    It is a for-sure, that fundagelical flavor faith increases certain negative, life-hating practices. Certainly the need to be perfect is one of those sick directions that seems to be a favorite. After plus sixty years, I am now quite convinced that the delusion upon which faith is based is not to be blamed for our beginnings and it is those beginnings, those formative years that set the stage for the play of our lives. From the time we become viable human beings in the womb (I don’t know exactly when that is in terms of gestation) our brains and various systems of life are being formed in an environment that is sometimes but perhaps not often welcoming and nurturing. If during those weeks, months and early years our growth is injured by harmful experience (violence, fear for loss of life, loss of parent) the body itself changes and develops to survive the traumas set in place for it. So it is that people who have suffered abuse in the formative years, develop low blood pressure that is lifelong and other means for the body to cope, a shutting down. Sometimes, people who have had control wrenched from them through harmful life experience shut down in other ways; I believe compulsive behaviors are coping mechanisms the body needs to be able to stand this life of lack and they are there because of the lack, the harm done. Religion is a tool that takes these human harms and uses them to encourage delusion. Jesus loves you and it is perfect, the perfect womb of love to grow in… Of course, this requires that you buy into the woo-woo faith and follow it first and foremost. The Lie of it is exactly what the body knows though, and exactly why the body still obsesses, and the preachers still find ways to harm themselves and others. Religion like this is not a good thing but it did not start the life of harm and delusion. That is something we bipeds do all by ourselves. (I find Arthur Janov’s work very helpful in these matters, especially his last book, Life Before Birth.)

    Reply
  7. exrelayman

    Funny. I believe in do it rite the first time to. This didn’t help me loose my faith though 🙂

    There are degrees of OC. I have a spot of it, but not enough that it was any factor in believing or not. Simply the flaws of the Babble and its conflict with science got me out on my own think power before the internet and without exposure to any atheist type material. It was the time of her heyday, but I didn’t even know who Madalyn O’hair was. It sure would have been easier though, had I known about Wheless, Remsberg, Paine, and Ingersoll. We do have more fodder for skepticism now, but truly their works retain their power.

    Reply
  8. gimpi1

    I have a spot of OC myself. I want the computer centered on the desk. I want the desk clear, and the filing caught up. I want the books on the shelves, standing up, not jammed in any old way. I want the tools, clothes and random objects scattered around the room put away. I want the beds made and the dishes washed.

    I’ve tried to relax about some of this. It really isn’t the end of the world if I leave the house in the morning (at 5:15 a.m.) with breakfast dishes in the sink or the bed unmade. Yesterday’s newspaper is not toxic waste that has to be recycled NOW! The curtains don’t have to be perfectly pleated…. OH YES THEY DO!

    Really, I’m making some progress. I got a kick out of your description of your need to be the first one to handle a newspaper. I can share the newspaper with my husband… but after we’re done reading it, I put it back together, in order, tidying up the pages and re-folding it. When he points out that he’s just going to recycle it, I say, “Yes, and now that I’ve tidied it up, you can!” He thinks I’m nuts, but he loves me anyway.

    Reply
  9. Shy1

    Bruce, it seems like you were more sincere than most.

    Your description of the ceiling tiles reminded me of a conversation my husband and I had when waiting in an office once. He tends to look around and see geometric shapes and analyze and divide them up- things are made up of rectangles, squares, triangles, circles, and they can be divided into smaller and smaller ones… I, on the other hand, tend to find faces in things. When I’m bored in a situation like this I’ll start looking for faces, like in wood grain or whatever is available. We were telling our kids about it and turns out our sons do like my husband and our daughter finds faces, like me. Funny huh? It must be a temperament thing that we focus on certain things.

    I am kind of like you in that I like to fix things. I feel a sense of accomplishment if I can make something work again. And I like to see how things are put together and what makes them work.

    Reply
  10. Shy1

    Lynn123, I have never got that “joy” thing either. I have wondered if it’s a misunderstanding and all these people are faking it because they think they’re supposed to have it.

    I actually knew a person who continually laughed, like with each breath she breathed in, she would breathe out this sort of giggling laughter. She called it the joy of the Lord, I call it a weird nervous habit.

    Reply
  11. Bob Crusoe

    Thank you for your blog post. I could see myself in many of the traits you spoke about. I am by nature a perfectionist. I want to do things right, and I want to do them right the first time. I have no tolerance in myself or others for repeat mistakes, so people who (for example), go into and out of debt repeatedly drive me crazy. I only had to be in debt once to know that I hated it and thus I refuse to ever do so again.

    Unfortunately my perfectionist tendencies bit me hard in the ass as a young adult when I ‘became a Christian’. I found myself drawn towards other perfectionist minded Christians. This drew me further and further away from the mainstream until I ended up in a pseudo-cult Christian church that ruled every aspect of the believers lives therein. Not only were they full quiver, but they had many other bizarre teachings that were enforced at the point of discipline and expulsion from the group if you failed to ‘repent’. What kinds of offenses would warrant discipline in this group? Here are some I personally witnessed: 1) a young couple where neither was employed and had 3 small children were ‘caught’ using birth control and were disciplined and expelled for their “sin”. 2) a member purchased a large dog and rebuked for ‘wasting God’s money’ as the money spent on feeding the animal could have gone into the offering plate. 3) Any woman wearing pants or any man wearing shorts would receive discipline and shunning due to their lack of ‘modesty’. 4) failure to homeschool was also grounds for discipline as you were ‘giving your children’ to the ‘world’. 5) a member received rebuke from the elders because he dared to ‘skip’ church one Sunday and his reason was to participate in the first day of hunting season (a hobby which he used to feed his family!).

    Thankfully I and my family escaped that cult after 5 years but the fallout and damage to our lives continues. 20 years later there are still wounds and hurts in my marriage and with my children as a direct result of involvement with this group and their teachings. Of course, when we left the group the others in the group were told by the elders that we were ‘apostates’ and that they should avoid all contact with us.

    I don’t blame anyone but myself for getting my family into that disastrous situation, because I see how my perfectionist mindset drew me to such a bizarre group. I no longer have any contact with ‘organized’ religion however I do still consider myself a Christian in spite of all that I went through.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thank you for commenting, Bob. I appreciate you sharing a bit of your story.

      Reply
  12. thomas gibbons

    i would say the only difference between you and me is that i believe in a god who puts up with a whole lot, starting with me’Perfectionistic teachers sicken me , considering i came from a super religious background with an archbishop and two jesuits .The problem i saw was denial putting on a coat of lies. I most certainly believe in jesus just not another jesus. I came from a heroin addicted background and am glad to be saved, if you may.Religion is still very much alive in my family of drunks and do gooders trying to get to heaven. Many say i am crazy that was a lot truer but i would rather be myself than a cynical look down my nose believer in this world.Actually i am pretty happy calling myself a saint and sinner , for that i am My biggest problem is with the do gooder , rich legalists on tv that represent insanity thank you tom

    Reply
    1. Peter

      Well the Sermon on the Mount has a bit of a perfectionist bent to it.

      Reply
  13. Pam

    You are not seeing the God of love. Also you take the word perfectionism and use it incorrectly. It’s maturity! No one is perfect/sinless. I very much have struggled too with perfectionism and thought as you did. But, I did not and will not ever give up my faith in Jesus. He didn’t make me think like this, I did! There’s also many verses in the Bible about being sober minded. It’s not fruitful to spend hours trying to fix or straighten up little things, when God has so much more important things He would rather you spend time on. Including worshiping Him, enjoying others, just enjoying life! Also the Bible has verses on contentment, meaning, you don’t have to keep trying, trying, trying, to get everything perfect. Just be content and STOP. That’s hard for some people, including me, but you might need exercise–that helps a lot of people with anxiety and also Christian counseling. The Lord is not trying to confuse you, but the devil and your own flesh is. So who’s winning? Satan. Stop letting him, exercise self-control in your own thoughts and actions and start knowing real love. Christ sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Sure glad you stopped by to straighten me out. *sigh*

      Reply
      1. Pam

        I work as a physical therapist, so the term straighten out does apply! No, I really, truly have struggled with perfectionism to the point of being a workaholic for Jesus. I went on SSRI’s which helped the OCD which I was in denial about then I went off of them and I got worse. I wouldn’t accept anyone’s counsel (Christian too). I thought they were just lazy and didn’t see how the whole world needed Christ and I was going to share the Gospel with EVERYONE I met. I thought Jesus would be proud of me for that. And I also feared the person would go to Hell if I didn’t. It wasn’t until I read in black and white in the Bible the story of Jethro telling Moses to delegate his duties or he would burn out! Exodus 18:13-24 New International Version (NIV)

        13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

        15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

        17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

        24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.

        After seeing that, I thought, wow, these counselors really have been giving me wise advise, I just refused to believe them. Also John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.: helps me because I have a tendency to think I have to do it all. The good Lord uses Christ followers to share the Gospel and be His hands, feet and of course mouth–but it’s truly only Him who draws them!

        I’ve learned, but am still learning. I still struggle and have trouble with boundaries in work, helping my disabled mom and even taking a vacation at times. But He’s with me through it all. Please think about what I wrote. I was on June Hunt’s Biblical Counseling radio program, Hope for the Night one evening years ago. She immediately identified some of these root issues.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          When you have taken the time to read my story then maybe we will talk. Right now, all you are is a drive-by shooter who thinks she can figure me out by reading a post or three. I presume, by now, you at least know I am an atheist?

          Reply
          1. Pam

            I’m fully aware

    2. Becky Wiren

      Really, Pam? You are going to argue with an atheist about what he thinks? Talking about God and Satan is a waste of time. If Christians would actually practice being kind and loving to their fellow man, maybe the rest of us would be more impressed. As it is, you’ve wasted your time and Bruce’s.

      Of course, you probably feel totally self-satisfied about it. You can pat yourself on the back for witnessing.

      Reply
      1. pam

        No, I don’t feel self-satisfied, that’a peculiar statement. I see someone who has struggled as I have strongly with perfectionism.

        Reply
        1. Michael Mock

          There is a natural human tendency to assume that our experiences are universal. Unfortunately, in this case you’re assuming that your experiences and Bruce’s experiences are comparable… and they aren’t. While there do appear to be some common elements, your root assumptions about what would help are pretty far off base, which is why everyone who’s responded so far seems to be rolling their eyes at what you’re saying.

          I appreciate the urge to try to help. (Really. Not sarcasm.) It’s just that it’s pretty clear to the rest of us that in this particular case, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

          Reply
  14. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

    But, without taking the time to actually know me or read my story, you have made a hurried judgment without sufficient warrant to do so. And I’ll tell you right up front….I have zero interest in medical advice from you. I see a competent primary care physician every 2 months, see a secular psychologist every 2 weeks, and see specialists as needed. I’m in good hands.

    Reply
    1. Pam

      Sorry you thought that…I wasn’t trying to give you medical advice, just explaining what happened to me. Unfortunately you seem to have strongholds in your life that need healing. You have taken the Bible verses out of context. I have to go, have a good night. Check out Hope for the Night…great to listen to online or on the radio, June Hunt.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        And with that you are done. That was quick.

        Reply
      2. Zoe

        No problem giving him spiritual advice though, right Pam?

        Reply
  15. sgl

    what she used to do as a perfectionist:
    pam: “I thought they were just lazy and didn’t see how the whole world needed Christ and I was going to share the Gospel with EVERYONE I met. I thought Jesus would be proud of me for that. And I also feared the person would go to Hell if I didn’t. ”

    and yet, here you are, trying to get bruce back to jesus, doing exactly what you claim you’re past doing since you’ve recovered from your perfectionist habits.

    Reply
    1. Pam

      the difference is…I don’t have to share Jesus with EVERY single person I meet. Of course, I love sharing the Gospel. Who wouldn’t once they know Christ as their Savior. He changed my entire being and has given me joy and peace. Not in circumstances, because in this world there will always be trouble. But deep down joy! And now that I’m saved, I go to Heaven when I die, not Hell. So yes, I WANT to share the Gospel so others are forgiven and have the same benefits of the Holy Spirit with them on earth as I have tasted. But again, it’s no longer motivated by a performance driven attitude, but one of deep gratitude and a desire, not craziness. Even a doctor who is a good doctor, if they work twenty hours a day will make themselves sick. So when I moved to another state to go to Bible School I was doing way too much–working, reading tons and doing lots of ten page term papers a week, and sharing my faith in Christ with nearly everyone I met. I literally lived on three hours of sleep every night for four years. I burned out, and now realize I’m a human being and need rest too. Only Christ is the Savior, not me! So even though sharing the Gospel is so important because everyone needs Jesus as their Savior–even Jesus took time away and didn’t run around like a maniac. So I’m improving in that area as a process. I’ve always had a lot of energy, but as a person, I needed better boundaries. Thanks for asking.

      Reply
      1. Zoe

        Well yes, even Jesus didn’t share with “EVERY single person” he met. I’m glad you got to that place of understanding Pam. I do think it can be a healthier place to be when you believe as you do that you don’t have to evangelize every single person you meet.

        May I share with you Pam, that a lot of us here were once Christians. There’s not a thing here in your writing that is new to us. We also once believed and many of us are familiar with similar struggles and similar triumphs that you share here.

        Many of us served in ministry. We went to Bible college. We were missionaries. We laid prostrate on the floor praying for the unsaved and for healing for the world and for ourselves. We sinned daily, repented daily and shared the gospel 24/7.

        Many here through years of faithful Christianity and through years of research and study and for many years of preaching, came to a place of understanding that what we once believed to be the truth was not the truth. We changed our minds about what we once believed. We no longer believe what you believe.

        Part of having better boundaries Pam, might also include having some boundaries on blogs by former Christians who simply are no longer Christian. Many of us suffered abuse within Christianity. Throwing out terms like “hell” and “strongholds” tells us all we need to know about your Christianity. We’ve been there Pam. We know it intimately. Believed it intimately. Practiced it intimately. Then no longer believed it. Perhaps you are not trying to reach us but to comfort yourself in your own belief. We’ve done that too, again, some of us. We get it. Or maybe you are trying to rescue those you see perishing. I can’t blame you really. It all comes from your belief system. When you believe most human beings are going to hell, it is a terrible burden on the psyche.

        Did you notice in Bruce’s original post that he, since leaving his former belief is growing and doing better with his perfectionistic tendencies? He doesn’t need Jesus to do so. Many people all over the world from various beliefs and non-belief face struggles and overcome them, without your belief system. We can be caring and compassionate people. We can rejoice and we can grieve. We can comfort and we can listen. We can support and encourage. And we still do it all without the belief we once had.

        Pam, I know it is very difficult to understand, but we “have tasted.” Along the way we learned that what we believed before wasn’t such a neat package all wrapped up in the perfectionism of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and the Bible. And before you think to tell us we all had the wrong kind of Christianity and that there is only one true church, let me remind you, you’ll have to get in line. It’s a long line of rebukes most of us have had thrown at us. You won’t be the first, nor the last. We’ve heard it all before. Most of us use to preach it.

        This comment you made Pam: “Unfortunately you seem to have strongholds in your life that need healing. You have taken the Bible verses out of context.”

        Perhaps you think you have the gift of discernment Pam? Perhaps you think you have the gift of knowledge regarding the “perfect” context of Bible verses. I’d caution you to be careful in thinking that you have the spiritual wisdom to help others Pam. Just being a Christian does not qualify you.

        I’m glad you realize now that your are a “human being and need rest too.” That’s a good thing. As a fellow human I agree. I just don’t agree that everyone needs Jesus as their Saviour to stop or work on their perfectionism. I see that you do. Can you see that we don’t?

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Pam’s comment has given me an idea for a post about dualism and the false notion that it is Jesus, not self who is driving/motivating Christians.

          Christians convince themselves that they are these passive instruments used by God, ignoring the things that really drive them.

          Reply
          1. Zoe

            As we both know, been there, done that . . . get it.

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)
      2. Becky Wiren

        Pam, did you know there are Christian groups that repudiate a burning hell forever? I belonged to such a one for years. My beliefs finally shifted to Universalism, then agnostic Universalism. But my point is, the God you believe in is an angry, vindictive God. You can speak of the love of Christ, but any God that punishes a human for eternity is angry. And vindictive.

        It never made sense to me. So now, I repudiate the Christian God. Because so many “evil” people are totally warped, and it isn’t their fault. I’ve heard people wish Hitler a burning hell for eternity? Really? Even if he did evil every day he lived, should he burn longer than his life? If he burned all the years of all the lives that he caused to be lost, he would burn for millions of years. Still not eternity. Wouldn’t a true loving God heal all of us of all our flaws?

        Anyway, the Bible is a collection of myths about the Jewish people, especially the OT. The NT is a collection of myths about a Jewish person who may or may not have existed, Jesus, and the Jewish sect that broke off from Judaism. Atheists, agnostics, and others care about FACTS and REALITY. And once we all had discovered the facts, that the Bible isn’t inspired by God and perfect, but created by people trying to make sense of the world, we could no longer believe the simple things Christians believe. It is possible to be a liberal Christian, do social justice, and be a force of good. But liberal Christians don’t make the Bible an idol. There are mainline churches that accept science and reality.

        I hope you can at least understand that you dropping by here and wanting us to be convinced in YOUR Christianity, is a waste of all our time. If you really, really want to continue to comment, at least read the commenting rules and read a number of Bruce’s blog entries. Then you would at least get an idea of him and be relating to him as a fellow human, instead of relating to him as a person you have to force into submission to your Christian witnessing.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Pam has read all of a handful of posts on this site — none of the biographical material found on the WHY page. She’s convinced she is right. Certainty, coupled with the belief that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text, breeds arrogance. Of course, Pam won’t see herself as arrogant. She’s just putting in a good word for the Lord. Until Pam can dare to consider that she might be wrong, there’s no hope for her. I understand where she is, having once been there myself for many years. All that matters is Jesus. All we talk about us Jesus. Even the good works we do are all about Jesus. Why? Because we a sinful, vile, broken, wicked people without Jesus. It is Jesus who gives life meaning and purpose. The answer to every question is Jesus. The question to every answer is Jesus. Jesus becomes your lover, confidant, and best friend.

          Bruce

          Reply
          1. Becky Wiren

            Yeah, and isn’t that too bad. I prefer my husband being my lover, confidant, and best friend. Plus others who are family and friends. 🙂

  16. Brian

    Hi Pam, I am sorry that you suffer some challenges with your health. As an atheist, I cannot believe your magical talk but I do understand the need to adjust your life to make it workable. My older brother has become quite a proselytizer as he grows older and won’t even let others finish a story they are telling before he steers it all into Jesus and the saved life. He is a bully. So are you, Pam. You are not going to heaven or hell and to suggest that others might be doomed unless they comply is bully talk. The Magic One has commanded you to sacrifice your children on a rock and you will do it because you are willing to harm others to save yourself. If you tell me to my face that I am going to hell because I do not believe sweet Jesus, the triune God, you are telling me to fuck off and die. You want me to adjust my life to cope the way you have because you feel it has worked for you and you need me to confirm it by complying. I won’t be on the team, Pam. Others use the evangelical path to stop drinking/drugs and sometimes it ‘works’. They stand on street corners in America and scream at passers-by that they are going to hell. Enjoy your coping but please keep it to yourself. Jeebers, if he is worth anything, must be able to reduce the level of hatred in the the American way of the Gospel, don’t you think? I wish you more and better personal boundaries. You were never a bad person, were you? Just an imperfect human trying to get along. You have allowed yourself some self-respect by putting the onus on a magic man but I tell you it is okay to just care for yourself, for yourself. You do not need magic permission or blessing. When the sun comes up in the dawn, I feel its warmth on my face and say thank-you for it. I am grateful the sun shines. Can you feel its warmth on your face too? You are worth it. I am sorry that you have not believed in your life and have given it away to feel better. Perhaps someday you can have it back again.
    I had an uncle who had to live his whole life on lithium after he stopped his business to preach on the streets. The weight of the lost was on his heart and he was unable to look after himself anymore, unable to feed his family. My older brother now follows in my uncle’s footsteps to some degree and i fear that he will be too demented to live a halfway normal life. He isn’t so bad as he claims. Years ago, I took the position that Jesus was innocent in my being merely human and that he could get off the hook as far as I go, you know? I set him free. I am responsible for myself, Pam. I have some dear and close people who assist me as I go along, a wife and two amazing kids. I do not wish to acknowledge any Saviour or big power sky guy. It just isn’t honest for me. I know that you seem to feel that being honest leads you to advocate for a power up there so, here we are together. Please leave me out of your black book exegesis. Leave me out of your bullying need to harm others with fantastical beliefs and superhero entities. There is no hell outside the human head. Thank-you.

    Reply
  17. Pam

    It’s Jesus plus nothing. I don’t have to do another thing to please God. Prior to my salvation, I was a workaholic then—I worked three jobs during college, and partied on the weekends/after work. But because I was younger, I probably could handle it better. As most know, as you get older, your brain/body are not the same. These tendencies in me come from a family that has similar traits. My dad had several heart attacks and worked multiple jobs. Involved in every committee you could think of. My mom told my nephew, after being home only one day from Afghanistan, to get up and that he better have a job. My point is sometimes in a person’s family of origin these things come up–habits. Working is a good thing, some people are the opposite–slovenly. But balance is needed.

    After trusting in Jesus this carried over to my desire to help others in sharing the Gospel. No one drove me to share the Gospel as I did, and certainly not Christ who’s example throughout the Bible showed balance! I drove myself. Just like no one drove me to work when I had the flu, or other sicknesses—I drove myself, instead of being realistic/sober minded. All the counselors told me to relax more, even take a vacation. Christians especially asked if I ever took a Sabbath Day of rest. I wouldn’t believe anyone. So no, no one forced this perfectionism on me, it was my own distorted thoughts. Thankfully, I’m now seeing my errors in a different way. I truly believe that God wants to help people in all areas of their life, and this area has been a stronghold for me/perfectionism. I see traits that run in families, including my sister with germs. I have taken verses out of context myself, and that’s what I saw in Bruce’s writings. That’s why we go to a good Bible-believing church and Bible studies, so that in the Body of Christ, we can understand more fully. Other than at times, Jesus was always with people, not in isolation because sometimes thinking gets distorted.

    As for people who’ve had bad experiences with churches and people that claim or may be Christian, I’m sorry for that. We are all so inadequate at times. I know God’s heart is found in the Bible, not always in people claiming to be Christian, since we all have carnal natures that creep up. If my mom judges Christianity for every time I messed up with her, she would have a poor example to follow, because I’m not Christ. I apologize to her when I get upset, but still I’m not nearly as Holy as He is. That’s why I don’t follow people, I follow Christ.

    I have a friend, who comes on very strong, he’s a great guy, his heart is there, but I’m sure at times, turns certain people off. We all need pruning. And different personalities in general, some people like, some don’t. At my job, I work with some atheists and agnostics who also bother me! They interrupt, swear, and are very sarcastic and rude at times. Other times, they can be nice. Of course, their treatment bothers me. I pray for them and know that they won’t lower their own pride and that is the truth, pride to know that God loves them and wants a relationship with them—not a religion, but a relationship and that changes everything. I’m a much different person prior to Christ than now. He’s still working on me though, and always will be throughout my life to make me more like Him.

    Families and friends can be great to have, but when they are gone or mess up, a person is left with nothing but themselves without Jesus. When I was burglarized in Texas, I remember vividly crying out to God, why was this happening. I had terrible back problems (from lifting patients), my family wasn’t talking to me, etc. But quite vividly I remembered a patient that I met who had lots of money, a billionaire. If I said his name, you would know it. We had talks and he said he was an atheist. He said all he lived for was this–as he pointed out the expensive pictures on his wall and his furnishings in his home. That’s when I realized, I can have everything taken from me—money, family, health, as did Job in the Bible, yet I am still richer in Christ than the billionaire was. I say that not to be rude, but to know He’s so much more than this extremely small amount of time on this planet offers people.

    To Becky—regarding Hell–first, the Bible declares that all sin is ultimately against God (Psalm 51:4). The extent of the punishment depends, in part, on the target of the crime. In a human court of law, a physical assault against an individual will usually result in a fine and possibly some time in jail. In contrast, a physical assault against the president or prime minister of a country will likely result in a lifetime in prison. And this is the case despite the fact that the crime was a one-time offense, not a continual, ongoing action. God is infinitely higher and greater than any human being. How much more are our crimes worthy of a great punishment in light of the fact that our sins are against God (Romans 6:23)!

    Second, the idea that we cease sinning after death is not taught in the Bible. Are those who go to Hell suddenly sinless and perfect? No. Those who go into eternity without Christ will be confirmed in their wickedness. The hard-hearted will be eternally hard-hearted. There will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in hell (Matthew 25:30), but no repentance. Sinners in Hell will be given over to their own nature; they will be sin-infected, evil, immoral, and depraved beings for all of eternity, forever unredeemed and unregenerate. The lake of fire will be a place of eternal rebellion against God—even as that rebellion is judged (Revelation 20:14–15; 9,11). Unsaved people do not only sin for 70, 80, 90, 100 years. They sin for eternity.

    What it comes down to is this—if a person chooses to to be separated from God for eternity, God will grant that desire. Believers are those who say to God, “Your will be done.” Unbelievers are those to whom God says, “Your will be done.” The will of the unsaved is to reject salvation through Jesus Christ and remain in sin; God will honor that decision, and its consequences, for eternity.

    I for one, look forward to eternity in Heaven, when I’m with Jesus and fellow believers, no pain, suffering, etc. And yes, that will be perfect.

    As for Brian, God is not magical, He’s the way, the truth, and the life and it’s your own choice what you believe, as is mine. The evidence is there. As for Brian’s comment, there’s no bullying. If a doctor told a person they had a broken arm, telling you that diagnosis is not bullying, but expressing reality. So is Heaven and Hell. Again your choice to believe.

    His presence is love and joy, despite circumstances of things like weather or sickness. So yes, I really like the sun too, but even in the rain, I know the Son is there and He’s all I truly need.

    Reply
    1. Becky Wiren

      We’re not buying what you’re selling. Methinks you are in the wrong place. And your god is evil. Just because you proclaim the love of Jesus doesn’t change that.

      Reply
    2. Geoff

      Sorry Pam but you are delusional. What you think you believe is not true.

      Reply
  18. Brian

    Pam, your bully God attacks your humanity and because you like it and it works for you, you tell me my arm is broken and I don’t even know it. Youi don’t even have the self left to admit that God told you to tell me my arm is broken. I find it sad and I hope that you do not visit this kind thingh on children. Do you?

    Reply
  19. Anonymous

    All I can say Pam is that every person has their own personal experience pilled up that made them who they are: parents, national/regional culture, friends and enemies, classmates, workmates, politics, environment, media, etc. These are the things which WE cannot control because it is outside ourselves, and if the God you believe is all-knowing (omniscient), everywhere (omnipresent), and all-powerful (omnipotent) is in control then he would probably understand fully ALL persons (literally, non-selective) regarding their experiences, understand them both intellectually and emphatically, and would speak to them and help them reject all the bad things, transform them to a higher state of being (righteous person according to the bible)

    But then here comes some religious argument that says God did understood them, spoke to their hearts, commanded them to repent but they just rejected it, and the reason why they can reject God’s will is that because God gave us all free will. But how are these religious people sure about their argument? They they conduct any survey? Any research studies? Is that a scientific conclusion? No. It was an assumption, and assumption isnt SCIENCE. First of all, if someone did fully understand a person 100%, he will find a 100% solution to it, and omnipotent wise, there is no room for error. But the truth is we know little about any person, even a relative closest to you, you dont know them 100%. So they rather refer to the Bible, use philosophical thinking, and interpret it the way it would fit them (cherry picking). Still NOT SCIENCE.

    In my honest, all I can say about the Bible is that it has mixed up facts and myths which makes people worse than being delusional… BUT an educated scientificallt literate person can pick up the factual things and reject the unscientifically proven things in the Bible. So is the Bible good or bad? Yes and no. It depends on how you use it. But giving a knife to a kid (scientifically illiterate) is wrong in so many ways, and that is how most religion works.

    Reply
  20. Brian

    Anonymous, thank-you for the balanced view of all things Bible. I often read the word, Bible, as if it was simply and more honestly spoken of as Babble. Your illustration, “But giving a knife to a kid (scientifically illiterate) is wrong in so many ways, and that is how most religion works.”, is bang on except the use of the phrase ‘scientifically illiterate’ is tricky here because though it is true, it does not include one foundational matter, the common fact of inherited traits, particularly parenting (or lack of it) that harms a child. I would say that this is every bit as big a factor as scientific illiteracy and hog-ties a person. It prepares their hearts to fear and hate, to have a built-in flaw that is dressed up as a strength (extremist religion/patriotism/nationalism.) A parallel, as I see it, is seen in American politics, particularly the rabid patriotism/nationalism that is rammed down the throats of people from their first breath. How can we have a balanced nationalism and a patriotism that is not based in pure fantasy that leads us to perpetual war?
    So education is a key for sure, a basic literacy in science which must include foundational challenges of both the delusional possibilities in religion and politics. If you asked the present president whther the USA is most important in this world and for this world, he would assent. There are countless others who would support his view and who gave him his office but the man is simply wrong. The USA is no more important, no more valuable in this world than any other group of people. Unless we start from level ground, all else will remain cock-eyed and Trumped. It’s like Gerencser trying his best to heal without acknowledging his baggage, his extremes, the OCD. He could be a dedicated pastor, hardly eating or sleeping in his efforts to spread the gospel far and wide. He could harm his family in this fervor and be praised by IFB zealots for his outstanding faith! He could be an exemplary American citizen. And still be very ill. We have to begin at the beginning. Evangelical religion is a sickness but one that we have fallen victim to because we carry damage with us, in us. Humanism begins to acknowledge this without the self-destructive ideas of ‘fallenness’ and original sin.

    Reply

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