Saturday, June 20, 2009

Perfect Perfectionism

The greatest all-time Olympian, swimmer Michael Phelps, has been described as a perfectionist. By reaching for the seemingly impossible and settling for nothing less than the best, he attained his goals and beyond. So, is anything wrong with perfectionism?

St. Matthew urges us to, “be perfect as (our) heavenly father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) And, Jesus answered a man trying to achieve salvation through his obedience to law (or through his works), by saying, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

But Hebrews 7:11 reminds me that perfect attention to God’s law was an unattainable challenge to man. As God’s Chosen people worked for His approval and their own salvation, their acts took on greater importance than the heart behind the law. The gap that existed between God and man clearly defined our need for a “better hope,” (Hebrews 7:19), which came through our eternally present high priest, Jesus.

So, are we to reach for perfection, or not? The answer is found in perspective.

Romans 3:23 is a critical verse to keep in mind as we evaluate this issue. All have sinned. Not one of us is perfect. All fall short of God’s glory. So, as we strive to be more Christlike in character, we must, “consider others better than ourselves,” (Philippians 2:13), and not lord over their imperfections with rigid judgment and a wagging finger from some lofty pedestal! (Matthew 7:1-5)

Only God’s way is perfect (2 Samuel 2:31, Psalm 18:30), and while we must try for perfect faithfulness, perfect peace and perfect unity, we should not look for the external to be perfect, nor place an expectation of perfection on others’ behavior and actions.

This is most difficult for me as a Type-A mom, because as flawed as I am, children are further, still, from perfection. They have little self-discipline, short tempers, and a very long way to go. Their growth is dependent on my gentle guidance and teaching along the way. When I am impatient, I think I am responding to their naturally sinful inability to reach my unattainable goals. Enter grace!

I praise God that His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in (my) weakness! (2 Corinthians 12:9) As a woman who longs to raise my children to know and understand Christ’s power, I must extend and demonstrate grace to them over judgment, and always keep in mind that unfailing love is the greatest of all God’s gifts. (I Corinthians 13:8, 13) As a mom, let me daily choose love and grace over perfectionism. Ironically, in doing this, I may come closer to being made perfect!

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