Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘perfection’

Matthew 5:38-48

Are you a perfectionist?

perfectionist
A dictionary definition: a perfectionist is a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection. In psychology, perfectionism is a personality trait of a person who strives for flawlessness and sets excessively high performance standards, often accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and deep concerns about how others evaluate. To a perfectionist, anything that’s less than perfect is unacceptable.

Are you a perfectionist? Do any of these phrases ring true for you?

There is no room for mistakes. You quickly race to correct them.
There is a very specific manner in which things should be done.
If something feels out of place it’s not acceptable.
It’s all or nothing—either you do something well, or not at all.
It is about the end result.
You are really hard on yourself when something goes wrong.
Not achieving a goal makes you feel heavy.
You often ask: What if? After the fact.
Your standards are extremely high and you fear not being able to reach them.
Success is fine, but there is always another level to achieve.
You only start things when you feel ready.
You can spot mistakes a mile away when others are like: Huh?

You are willing to sacrifice sleep, personal time, and even well-being sometimes to achieve something in the way you deem right.

Do you relate to any of this? Personally, I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist in general, but I do relate to a few of these characteristics. So though I may not be a perfectionist in all areas of my life, in certain ways I am. I bring this up, because in Matthew’s Gospel we get a story about Jesus of Nazareth talking about perfectionism, or so it seems. On the surface, it actually seems even worse than the psychological perspective I just shared. Jesus seems to be saying that we as human beings must be as perfect as God.

As perfect as God? Hold the phone, Jeebus!

kermitjesus
No way that Jesus is encouraging us to be divinely perfect, right, because that would be, well, impossible and also depressing. Talk about a self-image downer….

But let’s take a look at the word perfect in English, a translation of the Greek word telos. Telos has nothing to do with being morally perfect [or free from mistakes]. Telos is about being mature, reaching an end in one’s humanity that is…like a tree that after many years grows tall and then can bear fruit. Telos is a goal or purpose reflected in personal growth. This concept, restated by Jesus in Matthew, is referring to the perfection/growth of nature. The growth of trees and plants is perfectly balanced. And as we know from prior Jesus comments in Matthew, we as human beings are compared to things like salt, light, earth, clay, and animals. Being perfect, in this context, is about growth in our love, compassion, and wholeness. Like a tree, we are made to grow buds that eventually bear fruit. That is Divine perfection.

treefruitHow can we love perfectly? How can we live love in a time such as this?

Love your enemy.
Love when it’s not convenient and when it’s difficult.
Love people as they need to be loved—not how YOU want to love them.
Love people in different ways according to where they are in life.
Love with no borders, walls, limits, rules, or formulas.
Love and leave resentment behind.
Love those outside your social circles.

Love consistently, no matter what is happening in the world.

Let’s go back to the discussion about perfectionism. Having perfectionist traits is actually not all bad, you know. There is such a thing as a positive perfectionist, someone who is achievement oriented and not failure oriented. Positive perfectionism, which I argue Jesus practiced, is the lifestyle of noticing that there are things wrong in the world [injustices, suffering] and that helping to make things better gives life meaning. Positive perfectionists focus on how to make a lasting impact and they rarely give up because when they encounter obstacles, they shift to problem solving and see an opportunity. Failure is not the end of the world, because failure or mistakes lead to assessment and renewed brainstorming. Planning happens and there is a renewed commitment to pursuing that positive impact.

Friends, in a time such as this, when people are distracted by hate, and confusion, and manipulation; at a time when it may feel difficult to focus on loving and working for compassion; at a time in which it can feel overwhelmingly dismal and increasingly negative—we need to focus on cultivating the part of ourselves that is beloved, worthy, and good enough to make positive change happen. This is not a time to be overly critical of ourselves or of others. This is a time to be patient and compassionate both with ourselves and others. This is a time to reach out and build bridges, a time to surround ourselves with those who are trying to make a positive difference in the world and who recognize the importance of community.

Whatever level of perfectionist you are, bear in mind that you are enough; you are capable of living love in your relationships. You are capable of making a positive impact in the world. And the more we join together—all of us trees with compassionate roots and growing branches—the more fruit we will bear.

Perfectly Imperfect in Every Way

Matthew 5:38-48

Question for the audience:

How do you define perfection?

If you are a student, think back to a time when you prepared that bit of homework so carefully. You worked very hard, you spent lots of time on it—you felt good about it. When you turned in your work to the teacher, you felt a surge of confidence because…

It was perfect.

Surely you would be rewarded for what you did.

But when the teacher returned your homework, shock fell over you. Apparently, the teacher thought that what you did what anything but perfect! You just couldn’t understand why your teacher didn’t see the perfection in all the time, creativity, and effort you put into that project. But the lower-than-perfect grade, marked clearly in red on your paper, left a permanent, bad taste in your mouth and in your experience.

Just like poor Ralphie from a Christmas Story.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect…

Right. This word perfect rubs me the wrong way.

But the word in the original language of this New Testament passage is telos [Greek], and perhaps perfect is not an adequate English translation. Because telos is not about being morally perfect but more about being mature, reaching an end in one’s humanity.

That is, telos is like a tree that after many years grows tall and then can bear fruit.
Telos is a goal or purpose reflected in the growth.

In fact, let’s take this notion of perfection further. Let’s say that be perfect is like saying be like nature in its perfection.

Have you ever stopped to notice nature’s perfection recently? It’s amazing. There is harmony there. Nature is balanced. Just when you think nature is unbalanced, it recuperates and reminds you of its…perfection.

CR1You see, it’s not about doing things the “right” way all the time [whatever that means]; or following a bunch of rules; or even trying to make New Year’s resolutions or religious promises that you obviously won’t be able to keep.

What if, instead, we thought about our identity differently. Like nature–like that tree–God purposes for all of us to grow up , to mature, in our love, compassion, our joy, our peacefulness, and our wholeness.

What if we thought about the whole journey of life as walking towards that tall tree that eventually bears delicious fruit?

It’s not checking things off on a list or striving for the kind of perfection that garners applause or scores of 10 by judges.

If I were to ask you:

How can you love perfectly?

What would you say?

Well, Jesus would say:
Love your enemy.
Love when it’s not convenient.
Love people as they need to be loved—not how YOU want to love them.
Love people in different ways and with different actions according to where they are in life.

Love isn’t abstract in this sense.
Love is a concrete act of compassion, understanding, and empathy with no borders, limits, rules, or formulas. Love just is.

Sometimes love will hurt, and that’s the point.
Love that is easy and comfortable and always wonderful is not really love.
Love requires us to grow up when we don’t want to—leaving resentment behind.
Love asks us to bear fruit for others—no matter who they are or where they are from.

Love is perfect as nature is.
Love has seasons and rainy and snowy times, and sunny and blue-sky times.

But here’s the challenge—many times a sermon on a mount or a sermon in a church means very little once it’s over. I can talk and talk, but what will we all DO?

So I have to ask myself and you have to ask yourself:
What gets in the way of you being a tree that keeps growing?
What keeps you from identifying as someone who is loved by God?
What keeps you from loving people as they need to be loved?

Answer this.

Because these words:
Don’t take revenge on another.
Be generous without expecting a pat on the back.
Love your enemies.
Love those who don’t love you.
Love those outside of your tribe and social circles.
Just love people.

The words ought to inspire us to be telos: complete.

Imperfectly perfect in every way.

Accept how you are made. You are not perfect and you never will be.
But you can love someone as they need to be loved.
You can be compassionate with someone who has been left on the curb.
You can choose to reject the evil idea that some people count and some people don’t.
And you can choose to let your life grow and move and fill up with opportunities to love.

That can be a decision you make.

And look—nobody is saying that this is easy. Jesus himself never painted this whole love your neighbor and your enemy thing as easy. It is hard, hard work. And you will encounter disappointments and times when your tree will lose its leaves and need more water and feel that its branches cannot support any more.

But it’s like Jose Luis Sampedro, humanist, writer, and economist from Spain once said:

sanpedroTree

We should live as much as possible like trees
That after passing through a bad year
Grow new leaves and
Begin again.

 So may you begin again to discover how you are loved and can love.

May the sermon be nothing other than a memory.

May your day to day actions of love and compassion be the road you travel on.

 Stop focusing on being perfect; focus on being whole.

Grow up, spread your branches, provide shelter for other living beings.

Mature, walk towards wholeness, embrace the life that is in you.

 

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