I love different personality tests. One which is particularly helpful to me is the Enneagram. The Enneagram is an ancient personality tool that recently has been revived in fresh ways. It helps people identify their unique way of seeing the world and how that perspective expresses itself in healthy and unhealthy ways.
I vacillate between a Nine (Peacemaker) and a One (Perfectionist) on the Enneagram. I particularly need to be aware of the varied tendencies of the Perfectionist. Many positive benefits come from always striving for improvement. I have a passion for growing as a human being. I have a strong desire to be a better husband and father. I am not prone to settle for mediocrity in my life. Of course, perfectionism has its dark sides too. Certain types of perfectionists can be unbearable to live with. I work hard to subdue my overbearing perfectionist tendencies, but, if I am honest, they creep in regularly, particularly in my attitude toward myself. I give myself very little slack, always pushing. I have an extremely hard time ever turning off my internal critic.
Slowly, I am learning that life is too short to always be grinding. I am learning that grace is beautiful. I am also learning that I tend to impose on others what I impose on myself, even if I am not obvious about it. I don’t want to admit it (that would be very imperfect of me!), but I easily get annoyed when other people fall short of my seemingly reasonable expectations.
We are all such imperfect human beings. It is so easy to focus on those shortcomings. I’m not talking about blatant, evil imperfections like lying and cruelty, but small quirks we see in others that can be so irritating. They may run late, forget to make the bed, leave dishes in the sink, be inattentive, act like a grump. These small flaws tend to build up and snowball. At first, we don’t want to “make a mountain over a molehill.” But as time wears on and these molehills accumulate, they become mountains. These imperfections grate on a relationship and build up until all we see are the faults. Those we love are most susceptible to our judgments.
This is where grace comes in. The Bible also calls this kind of grace, forbearance. God forbears with us all the time, being described as “slow to anger.” In the great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that “love bears all things.” In other words, love is great at extending grace.
Extending grace, first to ourselves, and then to others changes our relationships and change our lives.
Fenelon, a 17th century Archbishop and spiritual advisor, is one of my favorite authors. His books are primarily compilations of letters to those he disciples. I love how he speaks with absolute clarity about bearing with imperfections.
- “Do not be overly concerned about your defects. Instead concentrate on having an unceasing love for Jesus, and you shall be much forgiven, because you have loved much. (Luke 7:47)” (Let Go, p.25.)
- “When we look at our defects in peace through the spirit of Jesus, they vanish before the majesty of His love.” (Let Go, p.25.)
- “Satan is the one who torments us with trivialities. And he often transforms himself into an angel of light, and bothers us with endless self-examinations and an over-sensitive conscience which allows no peace.” (Let Go, p.10.)
- “If there is one mark of perfection, it is simply that it can tolerate the imperfections of others.” (Let Go, p.50.)
- “The most perfect people in the world have many imperfections, and so do we. And sometimes it is quite difficult for us to tolerate each other. We are to “bear one another’s burdens,” and I think this means, among other things, that we are to bear the burden of each other’s imperfections.” (Let Go, p. 43)
Grace changes everything!
If we became consumed by grace, grace toward ourselves, grace toward others, I believe our entire world would take on a different hue. Kindness would replace judgment. Peace would replace tension. Joy would replace frustration. Civility would return. Oh how our relationships would blossom if infused with more grace!