I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. —Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the one right which they first of all strike down. —Frederick Douglass
Freedom isn’t free, and staying free is costly. Holding freedom up takes work. The default setting on the freedom toggle is off. “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man, a wise one said, is eternal vigilance.”
I’ll make this short so you can get out and celebrate America’s 245th Birthday. Because we felt it acutely this year: keeping freedom—especially to speak truth in love—required practice and vigilance.
Now for those quotes.
5 Free Speech Quote
1. “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
2. “It is often a strategic mistake to silence a man, because it leaves the world under the impression that he had something to say.” ~G.K. Chesterton
3. “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ~ George Washington
4. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ~ George Orwell
5. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” ~ Frederick Douglass
Free Speech: A Liberating Strife?
I’m no political expert. But I know that what makes my muscles strong is weight-bearing exercise. I know that what makes my marriage and friendships, and my church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time, but in still being free to both listen, as Frederick Douglass pointed out, and to speak.
What makes for strength is not suppression but endurance, not plugging our ears but hearing what’s hard to hear, not silencing opposition, but staying engaged when we don’t agree.
To promote free speech even when we disapprove is difficult. It may even be painful. Because free speech cuts both ways.
But maybe hearing what we don’t want to hear is a severe mercy and perhaps free speech itself is a sort of liberating strife?
O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
**Three of the five quotes are from Erwin Lutzer’s 2020 book, We Will Not Be Silenced. Lutzer gave a lively interview—”I think it’s okay to use the word bloody…No, you’re getting just enthusiastic enough.”—to Eric Metaxas this week. You can access that conversation here.
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”
Perfectionism paralyzes. For perfectionists, the perfect is the enemy of the good. According to productivity gurus, it’s also the enemy of the done.
Because perfectionism is crippling. When the project looked great on Pinterest, but then the drive to make it match the pin made you freeze? Like when I a blog post and feel so overwhelmed by the thought of knocking it out of the park that I grab a bowl of popcorn and pour a cup of tea and dust those cobwebs in the corner and grab another snack and… well- the post never gets started, much less done.
We’ve all been there. In fact, I just left my last stop there about an hour ago. Now I’m soaking in the wisdom of just doing something. Namely, of imperfectly writing this.
Because when it comes right down to it, I agree with G.K. Chesterton that, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” And, honestly, as D.L. Moody once told a critic, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
Or as I often remark, “Something is better than nothing.”
Perfectionism Stifles Growth
But we’d best define terms. I’ll borrow Jon Bloom’s definitions of both perfectionism and excellence. They’re not the same.
What we call perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence, though sometimes the lines can blur. When we pursue excellence, we’re determined to do something as well as possible within a given set of talent, resource, and time limits. But perfectionism is a pride- or fear-based compulsion that either fuels our obsessive fixation on doing something perfectly or paralyzes us from acting at all — both of which often result in the harmful neglect of other necessary or good things.
His clarification is important. Children of the King are called to excellence, to working “wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23). The focus is God. But that is entirely different from a self-focused orientation that insists on flawless, likely motivated by fear or pride to win others’ approval.
In one area or another we all have an inner drive to excel. Whether running a faster mile, proofreading before sending, or becoming a better listener- we strive to do well.
Making good resolves is a healthy way to grow.
Perfectionism Or Healthy Striving?
But perfectionism is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. Those who strive for excellence- and, dare I say for *perfection?– in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards.
I do this when I strive to make a batch of chewy chocolate chip cookies or teach a lesson that drives a point home or write in a compelling way that makes you want to read it. I enjoy this sort of striving. But perfectionism does not promote joy. Instead, it leads to discouragement, self-pity, and fear.
Though not overtly “Christian,” this article is insightful on the distinctions between paralyzing perfectionism and healthy striving.
Never being satisfied by anything less than perfection
Becoming depressed when faced with failure or disappointment
Being preoccupied with fears of failure and disapproval
Bouncing back quickly from failure or disappointment
Keeping normal anxiety and fear of failure within bounds
Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
Reacting positively to helpful criticism
Do you see the difference? Are you more of a perfectionist or a healthy striver? Your focus probably determines your answer.
Focusing on Christ leads to freedom. Fixation on self enslaves.
Be Freed From Perfectionism
I struggle to rest in God’s grace when I am so aware of my failure, a friend confided. I can relate. I suspect every Christian who struggles with perfectionism can.
Can you rest in the grace of God when you miss the mark? In other words, can you know God’s love when your life is an imperfect mess?
The answer is a resounding YES! But only if our focus is right. Jon Bloom again,
God has something far better for us to strive toward than our idealized imaginations of perfection, which only end up enslaving us.
Perfectionism’s subtle, but great danger is its self-orientation. Since it is a fear- or pride-fueled effort to win approval for the self, its primary focus is de facto on self, not God or others. In other words, perfectionism, even in the battle against sin, is not motivated by love or faith. And “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).
But God wants us to be free — free from the tyranny of pride and fear. He wants us to live in the freedom of knowing that he has our past, present, and future perfection issues completely covered.
Do you want to be freed from perfectionism?
Look For Growth
In our ongoing battles with failure and sin, we must know that God is not looking for perfect, externally performed behavior. He is looking for us to look to Him. He is looking for faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6) and for us to trust in his love (Psalm 147:11).
Remember, growth implies we haven’t arrived. If we were already perfect, there wouldn’t be room for growth. But God’s call for us to grow also means we shouldn’t be not stagnant and stuck. Or paralyzed by perfectionism.
Because when God commands a thing, he also enables it. The God who calls us to grow, gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). And that God calls us to grow also means he knows that there’s room for growth. He knows.
Can you rest there?
There’s Grace For That
A friend and I tag that on a lot when we talk, and confess our sins to each other. “There’s grace for that,” we say. For my being late, again; for her overeating, again; for my hasty words that cut, again.
That’s why He died. That is the gospel, my friends. If we were already perfect, Christ wouldn’t have died for us. He loved us and gave himself for us when we were dead in our sins. Perfectly dead.
That truth knocks the perfectionist breath right out of me.
Because Scripture is clear: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5). This is true.
This truth has power to demolish the lie that you can only please God and know his love if you are perfect. It is both humbling and exalting.
Because, as Timothy Keller so poignantly put it,
We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.
Maybe we recovering perfectionists ought to write that out and tape it to our bathroom mirrors. Then maybe we should to take a tour through the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11.
Commended for Faith, not Perfection
I did that with my Sunday school class yesterday. And it was so refreshing to see the very imperfect saints on the walls in there.
There’s Rahab the prostitute and Samson the proud who loved a prostitute, Jephthah the reckless and Abraham the liar, there’s Noah the drunk, David the adulterer, and Moses the murderer– just to name a few.
And all these, though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised (Hebrews 11:39). Do you see? These were not commended for being perfect. They were commended for their faith.
But perfection will come. In fact, the very next verse tells us when perfection will come. It will for the ancient saints when it comes for us (Heb. 11:40). We will be made perfect together in glory, when we see see Jesus face to face.
Until then, we press on in faith and love. But we do so with our gaze on the God who loves us so and has already made us his own.
And with Him in focus, and his grace, we can be freed from perfectionism.
Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Whatever you do, don’t breathe a word of this post to Gabe. He has no idea I took these pictures. He’d be mortified if he knew you knew that he did battle with a dragon yesterday.
Gabe started sixth grade last week and Gabe still works hard at his play. At imagination. And as much as I pray his imagination thrives until the day he dies, I’m aware that there probably won’t be too many more dragon battles.
That’s why I had wet eyes.
Never Laugh at a Live Dragon
I don’t laugh at dragons. Yesterday I almost cried, but I wouldn’t dare laugh. The full quote is “Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool! he said to himself and it became favorite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb.” If you haven’t guessed, it’s from The Hobbit.
Saturday night Gabe said he couldn’t put his figures away because he hadn’t finished the battle. He’d assembled the Playmobil warriors Friday morning. Then life took over, the fair and friends came, and the army waited, helmets on, swords in hand- for 48 hours on the couch in the back room.
Until Gabe woke early Sunday morning to do the great work of imagination: to make dragon and men do battle.
Too many of us grow up and we forget about imagination. We forget that we still need imagination to grow spiritually. Reality can be beaten, G.K. Chesterton said, with imagination. I still believe it.
So last night when Gabe asked, not really out of the blue, “Mom do you think there really were dragons, that even breathed fire?” I paused.
“Gabe, I think maybe there were.”
Not Too Old Too Imagine
You’re not too old. A sixth-grader is not too old to fight a dragon battle and you’re not too old to set your mind on things unseen. You are not too old to imagine. In fact, you might say, that’s part of your “calling” if you’re a Christian. It’s what we’re supposed to do.
Because imagination is not mere pretending. Merriam-Webster says it is the power of the mind to form images of things not present to the senses or within the actual experience of the person involved. Imagination is the ability to form an image in the mind, to see in the mind’s eye what is not present to the physical eye. To these ears, that sounds remarkably Pauline!
As in 2 Corinthians 4:18: Look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Or Ephesians 1:18: Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
And Colossians 3:2: Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
You are not too old for this.
Narnia’s No Dream
One of my first and favorite JoyPrO posts was about imagination. It started with a 4 year old Sam making a face out of flower petals. But it ended with one of my favorite scenes in all of the chronicles of Narnia.
Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum the lanky, languid Marshwiggle are closing in on their rescue of Prince Rilian. The Prince had been captured and held hostage by the evil Queen of the Underworld who had him under her spell, believing there was no other world.
…steady, monotonous thrumming…you didn’t notice after a few minutes. But the less you noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood. This also made it hard to think.
Narnia, said the witch thrumming, is all a dream. There is no sun. The lamp is the real thing, the rest is a children’s tale. And Aslan? Why, he’s only a big, make-believe cat. (The Silver Chair, p. 182)
Then, just as the enchantment was almost complete, Puddleglum did a very courageous thing. He stomped his webbed Marshwiggle foot in the Queen’s enchanted fire. And there’s nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.
Live Like A Narnian
Puddleglum’s mind became perfectly clear, and this is what he said:
Suppose we have made it up. All I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seems a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. (p. 190-191).
If you’re “into” Narnia, maybe you’ve already adopted this as your battle cry: Live like a Narnian!
That is labor! Some of the most effortful work I do happens the first few minutes after my alarm clock goes off.
Do Battle (For Joy) Every Morning
Exertion is just as necessary for us as it was for Puddleglum if we’re to break free from the evil enchantment of the Underworld. We need to exert our minds to form images of what we can’t see right now. Imagination can break the spell of worldliness.
Gabe did battle with dragon Sunday morning. Every morning I have to do my own battle.
Most often it’s against discouragement, selfishness, and the pervasive pride of self-pity. If you wage war in bed first thing in the morning, you’re in good company.
John Piper explains the fight of faith as a fight for joy in the Lord; a battle “to continually recognize, see, savor, receive Jesus as more valuable” than anything in this world.
I get up every morning and fight that fight. Every morning, that’s my war. Am I wanting to look at Twitter before I look at Jesus? Sounds stupid. That’s how stupid sin is. So every morning, there’s war in the Piper household. It’s not against my family; it’s against me, and my old man that I have to reckon dead over and over again (Ephesians 4:22) and pray that the Holy Spirit that would poured out on me, that my eyes would be opened; I would see and savor Christ as supreme. That’s war. That’s called the life of faith. Faith is seeing, savoring, the supreme treasure of Christ.
Above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you…But I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls happy in God Himself…Day by day, seek to make this the most important business of your life.
It’s effortful. Other things will press upon you. But God’s grace has been teaching me to make this my first labor each day. So, I thank God- sometimes I force my selfish self- to thank God for 5 things before I roll out of bed.
That’s usually how my battle with the joy-stealing dragon begins.
Labor Each Day: Imagine Dragons. Fight For Joy.
G. K. Chesterton had a way with words. Some of my favorite quotes come from him, including this one: “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
I did some digging and the quote is not exact. But it seems to be based on this bit from his essay “The Red Angel“:
Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
Gabe was St. George on Sunday. Defeating the evil and the ugly. I was him this Labor Day- fighting evil and ugly- and pray I’ll be everyday.
But defeating an evil dragon is work. It’s noisy work sometimes.
Can You Handle The Noise?
After I snapped the pictures yesterday, I walked in, Bible and journal in hand,
Gabe, would you mind if I sit out here and read for a little while?
I was ready to leave and give him battle space, the pause was so long. Then the shrug,
Well mom, if you can handle the noise, it’s okay.
I sighed the happiest of sighs. Doing dragon battle is noisy, but Gabe wasn’t ashamed.
Oh yeah, Gabe, I can handle the noise.
In fact, I love the noise. Because it’s the noise of real life.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.
“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” -Mark Twain
If your imagination is starved, do not look back to your own experience; it is God whom you need. Go right out of yourself, away from the face of your idols, away from everything that has been starving your imagination. Rouse yourself, and deliberately turn your imagination to God. -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for his Highest, February 10
Did you wake up bleary-eyed, weary this morning? Some days I do. Some days my mind’s eye is starved dim. Forty feels old and dull when these eyes are blurred with sleep. My imagination must be roused. Maybe it was the turn to March and winter’s-end wanderlust. AndLottie Lies Among the Flowers trilled by a tender young lass. All abask in laundry nook sunshine even as a fixture from church fades into glory. Then, the day’s reading: And He will circumcise your hearts and the heart of your offspring. And we will return and hold fast and obey. And the LORD will take great delight in this;God will gather, restore, and go with his people (Deuteronomy 30). Vision cleared vivid; I saw the dragon in the clouds. What wondrous love is this, O my soul? And can it be?
Imagination, Spirit-fed full. The Spirit and the Word gave new sight. Revived; no longer starved and bleary-eyed. I look right-out-of myself and see things unseen. Eternal unseen things. Imagination turns-is turned?- to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Aroused awake, with child’s keen eyes I saw.
“A Second Childhood.”
-G.K. Chesterton, The Collected Poems of G.K. Chesterton
When all my days are ending And I have no song to sing, I think that I shall not be too old To stare at everything; As I stared once at a nursery door Or a tall tree and a swing. Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs On all my sins and me, Because He does not take away The terror from the tree And stones still shine along the road That are and cannot be. Men grow too old for love, my love, Men grow too old for wine, But I shall not grow too old to see Unearthly daylight shine, Changing my chamber’s dust to snow Till I doubt if it be mine. Behold, the crowning mercies melt, The first surprises stay; And in my dross is dropped a gift For which I dare not pray: That a man grow used to grief and joy But not to night and day. Men grow too old for love, my love, Men grow too old for lies; But I shall not grow too old to see Enormous night arise, A cloud that is larger than the world And a monster made of eyes. Nor am I worthy to unloose The latchet of my shoe; Or shake the dust from off my feet Or the staff that bears me through On ground that is too good to last, Too solid to be true. Men grow too old to woo, my love, Men grow too old to wed; But I shall not grow too old to see Hung crazily overhead Incredible rafters when I wake And I find that I am not dead. A thrill of thunder in my hair: Though blackening clouds be plain, Still I am stung and startled By the first drop of the rain: Romance and pride and passion pass And these are what remain. Strange crawling carpets of the grass, Wide windows of the sky; So in this perilous grace of God With all my sins go I: And things grow new though I grow old, Though I grow old and die.” Some days I wake up feeling old. It’s too much work to see, I say. I need a rousing Helper to turn my gaze from me away. Otherwise the eyes stay dim; imagination starves that day. I’ve grown too old to see. Do you feel too old and dim, too tired and frail to look beyond the fall? To dull to be awestruck by the sheer impossibility of being alive at all?
Good news. If you’re in Christ, you’re not.
“No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him,” –These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10