“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
I just want this verse to float through the internet blogosphere for a minute.
Sit in this verse.
Let the heaviness and the daunting nature of it create impact.
If you’re someone who is okay with screwing up, failing, making a mistake, and have a general understanding that you can’t be perfect – so why try – this may not hit you as hard or be a post for you (you can go back to browsing the internet for cat videos now). But, if you’re like me, feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders to always do the right thing, to not screw up, to be perfect, and have felt this way since you were a little kid… Well, this saying of Jesus probably feels like you just got hit by a bag of bricks across the jaw (go get yourself an ice pack and keep reading).
If you already feel like your value, the amount of love you receive is determined by how “good” you are – this standalone verse will not alleviate those fears. If you’re a person who constantly has to align themselves in a posture to receive grace, reading the words of Jesus telling you to be perfect can be pretty crippling if you read it on the wrong day. Trust me, I know.
But, let’s not take this one verse out of context and let’s try to soften that blow a bit. The big picture of this verse is seen through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ Manifesto to His Disciples telling them how to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom here on earth, in the now. This quote happens to be sandwiched between Jesus talking about loving your enemies and being aware of how and where one practices their righteousness, as He asks His Disciples to not be like the Pharisees.
Jesus is telling His Disciples to be perfect, right before He calls out those who were as close to perfect as humanly possible in the first century. But, Jesus is telling His Disciples to be perfect as His Father, as God, is perfect.
We know this is unattainable right? But, does this mean we can’t try? Does this mean we can’t learn how to live into this calling – no matter how daunting it may be? This is so unattainable, it would be like asking me at the age of 29, with one good leg, at the average height of 5’11”, who is a white guy with a beard, to go dunk a basketball – it’s not going to happen.
Often a golfer longs to find the perfect shot – something like vintage Tiger Woods; something majestic and great with every swing. Talk about a fools errand because even the great ones don’t hit a perfect shot every time. Heck, even Tiger Woods was constantly taking his swing apart and redoing it.
Before blowing out my ACL (for the second time), tearing my MCL, my Meniscus, and doing cartilage damage last year – I was golfing regularly. I’m not saying I was good, but I was golfing, with a decent chip shot. I knew I was learning and was not necessarily what we would define as “good”. So, I’d go out there and hit a great shot – then five bad ones (when I was lucky) and have fun with it. I wasn’t concerned about being “good”.
Interestingly, the perfectionist in me does not get upset at golf. I roll with it. Meanwhile, playing slow pitch softball – every time I bobble a ball or hit a weak ground ball – I would get upset and disappointed with myself – even if I hadn’t picked up a bat, ball, and glove in years.
What’s the difference?
Golf, I’m willing to humble myself and admit I’m still learning; softball, is the sport I’ve been playing since childhood and my expectations are so much higher. Plus, with softball, it’s a team sport so when I fail, we all fail (not entirely accurate – see how much pressure I put on myself?). I expect to do well. I expect to be perfect. I think I have arrived (so delusional). With golf, the worse I can do is hold up the people behind me or make my buddies laugh.
In golf, what what you have to learn to do is hit the perfect shot for the hole, weather, course, and your physical shape. Sometimes the perfect shot is going to be less than ideal, but for that day, hole, and try, it’s the perfect shot because of everything else going on. Baseball isn’t that way – it is a hit or out – there is no in-between. Baseball is success or failure.
What’s your definition of perfect?
I think it’s time, for us who struggle with giving ourselves grace to fail, or even place way to much stress on ourselves to always be right, to redefine what perfect actually means.
This doesn’t mean we should accept failure, never repent, and never grow. Instead, it means not letting the failure define us, truly understanding we’re just learning, we’re growing, we haven’t arrived yet. Sure, we may have screwed up our tee shot, but the irons are feeling pretty good in the hand today. We still have a chance for that perfect shot.
After all, we did the best we could today, based on where we were at and how life was dancing around us. Tomorrow, that’s a different story. We get another chance.