Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Passionate Pursuit of Perfection

I've been feeling a lot of pressure lately to be perfect. Faultless. Blameless. As if my life were one big test on which I'm constantly being scored. I have to be perfect to witness to people who don't know Christ or else they'll see me as a hypocrite. I have to be perfect or else I'll never get a man to love me enough to want to be my husband. I have to be perfect to be a leader in our youth group, because those kids are looking up to me. I have to be perfect at work to get a permanent position. I have to be perfect everywhere, all the time, at everything.

That's a lot of pressure.

This past week, especially, I've been feeling it - and, I admit, I buckled under it. It overtook me. I let myself get angry, resentful, and frustrated. I started acting defensively and pushing people away. I felt helpless and hopeless. I spent four straight nights last week crying myself to sleep.

Yeah, um...that doesn't sound anywhere near perfection. Way to go, me.

We always say "God doesn't expect us to be perfect" to comfort ourselves. We say things like "Do your best, and God will do the rest," and "God only made One perfect person and they crucified Him at 33."

But in Matthew, Jesus says the very words, "Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)

Um...what? Does Jesus really expect us to be perfect? Jesus knows us. He walked among us. His best friends disappointed him over and over with their imperfections. Doesn't He know how impossible that is? Doesn't He know we can't be perfect? Doesn't He know I can't be perfect?

Right before Jesus said that, He was talking about loving other people - giving all of yourself that you have to give, loving those you hate you, showing mercy and grace to people who you really just don't like. He finishes those instructions with the exhortation to be perfect.

Perfectly loving. Perfectly graceful. Perfectly generous. Perfectly forgiving.

It seems to me the point Jesus is trying to make is that we should treat everyone else with the unconditional, unending, unfaltering grace and generosity and love of God. If we're doing that, we won't notice each others' imperfections because we're too busy loving each other.

I get it. That makes so much sense. It turns the pointing finger of judgment into an embrace of affection.

I still feel the pressure to be perfect, though. I get upset when I know others see my flaws and I feel like they're judging me and withholding their love from me - whether or not it's true. I do it to myself. I'm pretty much always my own worst enemy.

The problem is, much to my chagrin and no matter how hard I try, I'm never going to be perfect this side of Heaven. So what do I do in the meantime?

The only way I can see to get closer to perfection is to continue to seek the love and presence of God - the One who is perfect. Because the closer I get to God, the more He purifies me, molds me, works in me, and makes me more like Himself.

That's not a simple answer. It's not easy. It's not painless by any means. Just this weekend I became acutely aware of more of my egregious imperfections - of hard-heartedness, insecurity, immaturity. No matter how much God works, He always has more to do in me. My job is not to be perfect but to let Him.

And I just pray that my loved ones, knowing I'm trying, will be gracious and forgiving along the way.