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Receptivity plus offering my (messy) song to God

Lynne Baab • Thursday January 20 2022

Receptivity plus offering my (messy) song to God

"The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those who sang best.”
—John James Audobon

In my journey of letting go of perfectionism, those words from Audobon have had great impact. I came across that quotation about 20 years ago, and about 15 years ago, I embroidered it on a wall hanging that has been in a prominent position in my home for most of the intervening years.

The quotation summarizes so many of the major lessons from the Bible that have shaped me:

Spiritual gifts.As a young adult, I learned about the three major spiritual gifts passages (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4:11-12). Those passages were like fresh water on parched ground, giving names for the beautiful and enriching differences between humans, all of whom reflect God’s image in unique ways. Previously, I had a view that everyone should strive to excel in pretty much the same way. Later, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram gave me further helpful vocabulary to describe human differences. I love that my foundation for understanding human differences comes from the three passages in New Testament letters where we have an affirmation that people function and serve God in diverse ways.

The fall of the sparrow.In the midst of his busy teaching and healing, Jesus says four sentences that resonate with all of us who have felt that we simply can’t measure up to the standards held up to us: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). So often as a child and young adult I felt like I just didn’t matter, like a small brown bird in huge flock or like one tiny nondescript hair on a head covered with a hundred thousand more hairs. Jesus affirms even when we feel small or imperfect, we are loved. We are valuable.

The women of the Bible.The main characters of the Bible are men, so it’s easy to think we women don’t matter very much. Yet in book after book of the Bible women appear in significant roles, even when only a few words describe them. Ruth and Esther have encouraged so many women to view themselves as valuable, along with the judge Deborah (Judges 4 and 5), the intensely praying Hannah (1 Samuel 1-2), the capable businesswoman of Proverbs 31, the women at the tomb (Mark 16:1-8), the hospitable Lydia (Acts 16:13-15, 40), the teacher and church leader Priscilla (Acts 18:2, 18, 24-28, Romans 16:3-5), the apostle Junia (Romans 16:7), and so many more. Each of them did what they could. None of them gave up on their calling because they couldn’t be perfect. Each of them sang the song God gave them to sing.

I wrote in my previous post that this year I am offering to God my willingness to pursue the good and continue my journey of letting go of the pursuit of the perfect. I loved the podcast by Rob Bell that I quoted from extensively last week, because his perception of good includes messiness, dirt, and wrong turns on the journey. Upon further reflection, Rob Bell’s words reveal to me that I have pretty successfully let go of perfectionism only in one sense. I no longer expect the things I do to be perfect. I shoot for good, or good enough. However, even good or good enough can put me back in a place of bondage, because pursuing good can still include the tyranny of working toward a static goal rather than embracing the process. Rob Bell talked a lot about the discomfort involved in process of fruitfulness: the dirt, mess, wrong turns, and cul-de-sacs. I sense that I am being called to offer to God a willingness to embrace the messiness of the journey as something good.

The messiness of good contributes to the wise use of our spiritual gifts and personality strengths, as we experiment with new things, stumble, pick ourselves up, and move forward with more wisdom. Acceptance of dirt, mess, wrong turns, and cul-de-sacs plays a role in our understanding that yes, we are small like sparrows and hairs, but we have infinite value in God’s eyes whatever happens or whatever we do. The faithfulness of the women of the Bible is not grounded in being perfect in some sort of idealized way. Instead they stepped out in faith, trying to follow God’s path for them no matter how messy the story.

Yes, indeed, the woods would be very silent if the only birds who sang there were the birds who sang best. In 2022, let’s join the chorus of birds and sing our hearts out.

(Next week: Offering God my reasonable hope. Illustration: a wall hanging I designed and embroidered. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

My book on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is called Personality Type in Congregations: How to Work with Others More Effectively.

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