Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Being Perfect

When I was a little child, I took to heart the words that Jesus spoke, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect". I thought that if I could just be perfect enough, then I could somehow make our very abnormal family normal. I could stop my mother and father from fighting, my stepfather from abusing me. Perhaps if I had understood what Christ meant by those words, I could have. I, however, took those words and tried to live them without God's help.

I became a perfectionist, and it twisted me all up in knots inside. I feared the least little mistake that I might make. In first grade, I received a B on a math test and burst into tears. My teacher was puzzled at my tears and asked me what was wrong. I told her, "I'm so devastated. My parents are going to kill me." I believed it, too. She was amazed that a 6 year old had not only used the word devastated but in the correct context, too. She could not understand the complete and total terror I had of making a mistake.

This fear eventually led me to lying and blaming others for my mistakes. It was simply too painful to admit my failures, so I denied them instead. It led me to pretending to be someone I was not in order to please others, and as a result I eventually lost track of who I really was to such a degree that I didn't even know who I really was anymore. All this effort at being perfect ever really accomplished was to create a child so afraid that who I really was wasn't good enough that I would have done anything to keep people from seeing me, including God.

Fortunately, God knew me well enough to know what the problem was. By degrees, He helped me to undo the knots I had tied my life into and to straighten out my thinking. Eventually, I developed a new understanding of that passage. He reminded me that this passage means nothing until you connect it with an earlier statement in that same passage: "Love your enemies, and pray for those who hate you". This is what Christ meant by perfection: to love perfectly. To love even those whose behavior is unlovable. To love them when they hate you enough that you are willing to die for their sake, which is what Christ did for us.

God also helped me to see that while for man such a thing is impossible, with God all things are possible. Alone, I had no hope of being able to love as God was calling me to love. I am too easily wounded, too easily angered, and it is too easy to erect emotional barriers to keep out those who hate me. Alone, I will assuredly be defeated as an unarmored babe wandering on a battle field. However, when I allow God's love to fill me then there is no one I cannot love, no hatred I cannot overcome by loving the person who hates me more thoroughly than anyone has ever loved them before. They may not understand my actions, but I know that I can persevere in that love for them no matter what they do to me so long as I have the help and guidance of God.

I know this, because I have had plenty of opportunities to practice loving my enemy. I have learned to see my enemies as gifts to be treasured, opportunities sent from God to help me grow in my faith by teaching me something about myself. I have learned that it is the one who abuses me the most, who is the most difficult to love, is the one who needs my love the most.

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