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Be ye perfect?

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Are you having trouble being perfect?   Remember Martha Stewart referring to her cakes and flowers etc. as perfect? It would irritate me to use perfect that way. But I suspect that the real problem is that I know that I can never measure up to Martha’s standards. The idea of being perfect is a challenge for all of us. We are asked to work at the perfect marriage, the perfect resume, perfect manners. We are challenged to meet the standards of perfection every day.  

     If it isn’t bad enough that the world wants perfection, it looks like God wants it too! We read the English word “perfect” quite a few times in Scripture: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:40, “… do whatever is good, right and perfect” (Romans 12:2). 

     However, if you get back to the original language of the writers, the meaning was more like “complete” or “whole.” So all these years we have been trying to make sure we had perfect attendance, didn’t use the salad fork for the entrée, got straight As, and God could have cared less. We have struggled to do everything without a mistake, and now we find out that what God calls us to be is the very best, whole, complete version of our authentic self.: the authentic self that God created us to be.

     In some ways, it is easier to work at being perfect than it is to get totally honest with ourselves. Can we accept ourselves as unique, never-before-created, completely beautiful, and loved by God? It is scary to imagine that what God expects is to “be who you are and to be that very well” (in the words of St. Francis de Sales). So, you being perfect is nothing like me being perfect. There is no perfect list that everyone must check off. Everyone receives a particular list with one-of-a-kind requirements. We’ve got Marys and Marthas, baseball players and violin players, money counters and dancers, etc. All are striving to be their best selves and all very different. Isn’t this wonderful!

     We might presume that we have been left off the hook. There is no more pressure to be a saint. It is quite the contrary: Every authentic saint becomes God’s work of art.  One of my favorite moments at the Easter Vigil is when we sing “ You are God’s work of art, baptized in Christ Jesus.” What that means is that each of us rise out of the water of baptism with the grace to become transformed into our own expression of Jesus Christ and no two are alike, ever.

     A good friend of mine confided that he had spent his life trying to be perfect. There was constant stress to get everything as flawless as possible.  He was under the impression that if he wasn’t perfect, then he wasn’t worthy of being loved. This led to a never-ending attempt to prove himself worthy. It seemed that perfection was the only way to happiness…but in reality, that path led to misery. 

     Then one day, thoroughly exhausted and defeated, he begged God to help him. In the silence of that lonely night, he heard a voice in his heart, God’s voice, saying, “Pick up your guitar.” That was the beginning of his discovery of who he was meant to be. Playing guitar was something he naturally loved during childhood, but he had abandoned his guitar in his teenage years, thinking he wasn’t good enough.

     At the prodding of that inner voice, he picked up his old guitar and started playing again. He soon started writing songs and that led to many adventures that he could never have imagined. He gave up everything the world would say matters, and he has never been happier. He is a singer/songwriter with many CDs. He works as a pastoral associate caring for the sick, the poor, the marginalized. He is a beacon of peace and contentment. 

     So, to be really perfect, whole, and complete, we need to honor the authentic person God created us to be, and it is okay. God is giving us permission to love being who we are. 

     In fact, God tells us to love others as we love our self. This implies that we must first learn to love our self before we can ever hope to love someone else. Keep in mind that our unique combination of talents and gifts will never be the same as in any other person. Each of us is necessary, just as we are, for God’s Kingdom to come…even Martha!

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