Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
That verse just about killed me.
It certainly made me psychotic and suicidal for a while, after I'd exhausted the limits of what I thought it meant: the perfection of my own personal morality project.
Day in and day out, I worked at perfectionism as hard as I could.
I didn't drink, I didn't chew, I wouldn't go with the boys that do. I went to a Christian college, only had Christian friends, was at church every time the doors were open, became a missionary.
I looked good--even GREAT--on the outside, but on the inside, the more perfect I tried to be, the worse it got.
There was no rest for my soul, no joy in my heart.
I was exhausted by all the performing, all the attempts at perfection, frustrated with myself for never being perfect, and angry with anyone who wasn't trying as hard as I was.
I was disconnected from myself, disconnected from others, and increasingly disconnected from God, who apparently was not interested in participating in my personal morality project, since he wasn't answering my prayers for perfection.
After all that hard work, nothing turned out like it was supposed to.
And I couldn't quit, because perfectionism is a gerbil wheel.
The minute you stop running, the jig is up.
Those of us who have tried perfectionism, tested it to its outer limits like I have, we know that the fruit is bad. We know it doesn't work. We know it's rotten to the core.
People ask how to get out of the trap of perfectionism, and the underlying concern I hear is this: how do I exit perfectionism perfectly?
Because this is how us perfectionists roll. We don't ever want to give perfectionism up. It owns us, body and soul. (It might actually be the devil, come to think of it.)
I'll be honest, y'all: I don't know how to do this pretty, because I was such a determined perfectionist that even when I knew it was wrong and bad and crazy, I was so afraid of jumping off the wheel that I just kept going until I was psychotic.
I kept doing perfectionism until my body and brain gave out and perfectionism was no longer an option, and then I found this:
Love lifted me.
That was pretty much it.
When I couldn't do anything,
when I couldn't perform,
when I was the farthest from perfection I'd ever been in my life,
Love healed me.
(And Love heals me still, every single day.)
I don't think it really matters how you get off the gerbil wheel, or even if it's pretty. It's like that old song: "Just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan, no need to be coy, Roy, just get yourself free."
I made a mess getting myself free, and it came out okay, because that's how Love works.
A while after my perfectionism-fueled breakdown, I ran across that Bible verse that had plagued me all my life: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48
And for the first time I could remember, I looked at the context: Love.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.
When this verse talks about being perfect, it's talking about Love.
It makes sense if you think about it, because the Bible clearly says, I John 4:8:
GOD IS LOVE.
If we want to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, then "perfection" is going to be Love; in fact, it's going to be a radically inclusive Love that gives goodness to everyone, and not just the people we deem "righteous."
**That Love includes our undeserving, imperfect selves, by the way. We are not excluded from Love.**
And how do we come to be so full of Love that we can love even our enemies and do good for the people who are evil to us--and even love and do good to ourselves?
It's as simple as this: receiving Love and letting it fill us until it overflows.
When you're ready for Love, there's nothing more to do.
Will it make a mess when you jump off the gerbil wheel?
But when the spinning stops, you'll find that you're free indeed.
And then the strangest thing starts to happen.
Love, as it fills you up, starts to crowd out all the not-Love.
When Love comes to town and buys up all the real estate, you'll stop doing things that harm yourself and others. It's incredible the energy and the life you can access, for yourself and for others, when you stop beating yourself to death trying to be perfect.
Andy did a little word study on the Greek word teleios, which is rendered "perfect" in Matthew 5:48, and he tells me that it has several shades of meaning: mature, complete, finished.
I just had to laugh when he told me this, because YES. YES. YES.
When we get off the gerbil wheel, this is exactly what we find to be true: there's no more perfectionism, but everything is more and more mature and complete and whole in Love.
Perfect in Love, without a shred of perfectionism.
Jump and see.