The preacher said, “There’s no such thing as a perfect man. Anybody present who has ever known a perfect man, stand up.” Nobody stood up. “Those who have ever known a perfect woman, stand up.” One elderly lady stood up. “Are you honestly saying you knew an absolutely perfect woman?” he asked, somewhat amazed. “Well now, I didn’t know her personally,” she replied, “but I have heard a great deal about her. She was my husband’s first wife.” Now many of us have some idea Jesus once said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” But what he meant by that is not how we often think about it. He meant a spiritual perfection that has nothing to do with not doing anything wrong. It’s very similar to when scripture says Christ gives us peace the world can’t give. Christ’s perfection is not the world’s perfection—because no one is perfect. Everyone knows it. Nobody’s perfect has been said so often that there’s nothing new in repeating it. Yet it still seems necessary to remind ourselves of this, especially moms on Mother’s Day. Someone said, “There is no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a good one.” This is so true but many moms still try to push the perfection thing to its logical conclusion: If I’m perfect and say and do everything perfectly, then my children will be perfect and they will live perfect lives and I will have succeeded as their mom. Yeah, well, good luck with that. Ain’t nobody perfect, and that means you, mom. Ok, so everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are creative. We see the big picture, but not the details. Others are detail oriented to the point they miss seeing the forest, but take in each and every tree. Some of us are liberal, while others are conservative. Some are people oriented, sensitive. Some are not. The thing is while we say we know this is true and obvious that nobody’s perfect, we don’t walk the talk. Here’s the tricky point: If you work on your weaknesses, it may mean you believe if you succeed in removing them, you will be approaching perfection. In other words, you say no one is perfect, but you nevertheless try
to become so. Working on your weaknesses means you harbor the hope, you have faith that you might succeed and be perfect. Now how’s that for a catch-22? Because after all who shouldn’t work on their weaknesses, their repeated error of thought, word, and deed? And yet if we do, then we may be doing so in order to become something we can’t. Work on your imperfections but not because you need to perfect. Seek the Lord’s forgiveness for sin, grace for errors, blessings for wrongs. Be a partner with God in your maturing in Christ. Be the change you seek to become. But not in the pursuit of mistake-lessness. You won’t get perfect progeny from it, nor a happy marriage, or a happy self. God doesn’t need a whole bunch of perfection seekers in the kingdom. The truth is God doesn’t need this because too many distort the whole point of doing better than before. We ruin it by quickly turning our wanting to do better than before into wanting to do better than others. We seek to be better in order to stand above and stand out. This is how we’re finally going to get the approval and acclamation that’s at the heart of our drive for perfection. Yeah, well, good luck with that. There’s some serious bad mojo going with anyone who wants to walk that way. As a wise person said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Get off that journey and start a new one. This wisdom is conveyed so beautifully in the children’s story, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” It has captured the hearts and minds of generations since it was written by Margery Williams in 1922. The story is about a little boy who is given a stuffed animal for Christmas, the Velveteen Rabbit. While it is a soft and lovely rabbit, it does not have the appeal of the more expensive, mechanical, and fancy toys in the boy’s collection. So it is soon forgotten, overshadowed by the other more exciting toys in the boy’s nursery. The Rabbit, however, makes friends with another long forgotten toy, the Skin Horse, the shabby veteran of the nursery that had been the favorite toy of the boy’s uncle many years before. One day, as the two stuffed animals are discussing the Rabbit’s inferiority complex, the Skin Horse shares some wisdom. A toy becomes real if its owner really loves it. “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it
mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.” Now listen to this next part: “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.” “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Perfection may be fancy but it isn’t real and it certainly isn’t love. The easier you break, the sharper your edges, the more you need to be carefully kept, the harder it is to love and be loved — and the harder it is to love yourself. Perfection has a kind of unexpected fragility. It doesn’t have the sturdiness needed for the rough and tumble of an ordinary, happy, and real life. Instead of seeking approval and acclamation, our journey takes place on paths of acceptance, patience, growth, consideration, strength, flexibility, hope. This isn’t easy. This isn’t for the weak of heart or the stiff of mind. We want the ability to stretch without tearing, bend without breaking, and give without losing. If anyone thinks this is easy to come by, then they’re not in the know. This won’t make us perfect but it will keep us on a closer walk with the Lord, better able to hear God speak to us, closer to reaping the blessings Christ Jesus bestows: happier in heart, more resilient in spirit, freer in thought, more willing to forgive others their trespasses. As 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Of course, we all want to be perceived as competent in all aspects of life. In our work, we want to be a can-do professional. But this is life and everybody messes up. In fact, if you don’t, it probably means your not challenging yourself enough.
A woman by the name of Linda says, “A former mentor and boss of mine … would always ask me, ‘Linda—making some mistakes today?’ I knew when she meant: The harder you work and try, the higher the incident of mistakes. But overall you make progress. Moms never want to make mistakes. Dads don’t want to make mistakes. But the cost of not making mistakes is sitting on the couch or keeping your head buried in the next book. Not being involved doesn’t mean not making mistakes. Children would much prefer parental engagement with mistakes than non-engagement and no mistakes. Just apologize. Be willing to say sorry, and then make sure you say it to them when you make a mistake. It’s one of the best ways of having your cake and eating it, too. I do a lot of coaching with Elise and her soccer. She works incredibly hard, practicing around 12 hours a week. A lot of that time is with me in evenings and on weekends. Pushing her hard is fine, as long as there are rewards for it and I give her lots of compliments about how amazing she is and how much better she’s getting. Sometimes I may push her a little too hard. She may be more tired than I think, or less interested in receiving the bouncing ball on her right side than is necessary in order to do it well. When I cross a line and get on her case too much, I apologize. Sometimes I do it quickly after I realize I was wrong to push that hard; other times it’s the next day. But I make sure I do it. I’m not perfect, but practice makes perfect—in soccer and in relationships. Practice saying sorry. Don’t worry that it makes you look weak. Build bridges with an apology rather than keep up the wall that your words or behavior erected. You will feel much better, and so will the one who needs to hear your words of contrition and care for them. Our scripture compares God to a mother who can’t forget her nursing child or not have compassion for her own. God actually exceeds this connection, scripture says, because even if some moms can’t fulfill this relationship, the Lord still does. The Bible tells us the power of a mom is often in the capacity to love and remain loving, even and especially when children aren’t so lovable. The truth is if a parent is constantly trying to be more than what is enough, and pushes to do everything just right, and gives the impression that mistakes aren’t being made because they mustn’t be made, then her child will learn that perfection is required in order to please the parent.
Be real in order for children to understand what is real and what isn’t. Parents need to love themselves, accept their imperfections fully, be able to speak about them, and then their children will understand themselves fully, honestly, and lovingly. Seek to be real. Be yourself. Love yourself, mistakes and all. Don’t worry over your weaknesses, and don’t cover them up. Instead, apologize for them. Seek forgiveness when they show up again. The truth is the Lord isn’t done with you. Don’t resist where God wants to renew. God wants to perfect us through grace that is a gift. The kindness of Christ toward us leads us to a kindness toward ourselves and to others. And that’s the kind of perfection the Lord is talking about. Can the church say Amen?
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