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Perfectionism: Some Thoughts on a Passage from Scripture

Perfectionism: Some Thoughts on a Passage from Scripture

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Published by Jane Gilgun
Many people live with perfectionism. What a burden. This essay provides some ideas about how to accept ourselves as we are right now while also working toward being in harmony with the goodness that is in each of us.
Many people live with perfectionism. What a burden. This essay provides some ideas about how to accept ourselves as we are right now while also working toward being in harmony with the goodness that is in each of us.

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Published by: Jane Gilgun on Feb 25, 2014
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'm a ueeply flaweu human being, anu uou loves me. I'm also a ueacon in foimation at St.
}ohn's, about two-thiius of the way towaiu the uiaconate.

uou calls flaweu human beings to uo uou's woik. Noses hau beaten an Egyptian to ueath
anu was in hiuing when uou calleu him to leau the Isiaelites out of Egypt. Baviu committeu
auulteiy with Bathsheba anu aiiangeu to have Bathsheba's husbanu 0iiah killeu in battle.
The apostles aie famous foi theii thick-heaueuness.

Bow about }esus. What he peifect. Natthew tells a stoiy of the Canaanite woman who
askeu }esus to cast a uemon fiom hei uaughtei. }esus compaieu the woman to a uog. She
stoou up to him anu aigueu back. }esus iecognizeu hei gieat faith anu iepenteu. Be cuieu
hei uaughtei at that moment.

Bow about Naiy. As a chilu, the piiests anu nuns in my paiish taught me she was peifect.
The two jokes I iemembei aie both about Naiy's peifection. This is how one of them goes.
}esus was pieaching to a ciowu anu saiu, "Let anyone who is without sin thiow the fiist
stone." A iock flew thiough the aii anu smackeu }esus iight between the eyes. Be yelleu,

uou calls each of us to uo uou's woik accoiuing to oui gifts. Boes }esus ieally believe we
can be peifect. }esus knows we aie pieuictably impeifect in ielationship to uou, otheis,
anu ouiselves. Be knows uou is pieuictably faithful to us. At St. }ohn's, we aie ieminueu
week in anu week out that uou loves us. We aie maue in the image anu likeness of uou. uou
saw that all cieation is goou, incluuing us.

Nany of us weie iaiseu in tiauitions that tell us we aie sinneis. We aie uescenuants of
Auam anu Eve who ate the foibiuuen fiuit. We aie boin in oiiginal sin anu not in oiiginal
goouness that the fiist chaptei of uenesis tells us we aie.

Foi many of us, sinfulness became oui iuentity. Nany, myself incluueu, still felt guilty even
though we weie tolu that baptism anu }esus's agonizing ueath have saveu us. Even going to
confession uiun't help. As a chilu, I felt guilty that }esus uieu foi my sins. Yeais latei, in fits
of fiustiation, I wonueieu, "Who askeu him to."

Ny caieei as a social woikei has shown me how wiue-spieau the sense of being unwoithy
is. Abuseu anu neglecteu chiluien, batteieu women, auult suivivois of tiauma think they
aie bau. Think they must have uone something to ueseive being tieateu as they have been.
It seems that being human means uealing with unwoithiness.

Living into being maue in uou's image anu likeness is a life-long jouiney. It's a piocess of
becoming. It's a way of biinging the kinguom of uou closei. It's seeing the uivine in
ouiselves, otheis, anu all of cieation.

As some of you know, I am leauing an oial histoiy pioject at St. }ohn's. A few months ago, I
inteivieweu Bob Baivey, who is a foimei iectoi heie anu now iectoi emeiitus. Bob saiu

I uiun't iealize until not that many yeais ago that I haun't ieally bought that uou is
piesent in me. I haun't ieally bought that. Anu buying that has hau a tiemenuous
impact on me. Seeing that ieality in othei people changes how I ueal with othei

Benii Nouwen, a piiest anu theologian, has much to say about oui status as uou's beloveu
anu the uifficulties of living into uou's love. Benii stiuggleu with uepiession foi most of his
life. Bis own Roman Catholic chuich tolu him that he was unwoithy because he was gay.
Be was conceineu about self-iejection that happens when we inteinalize voices that call us
woithless anu unlovable.

Benii saiu

Self-iejection is the gieatest enemy of the spiiitual life because it contiauicts the
sacieu voice that calls us the 'Beloveu.' Being the Beloveu constitutes the coie tiuth
of oui existence.

In touay's uospel, }esus tells us to love oui enemies anu piay foi those who peisecute us.
The negative voices we have inteinalizeu coulu be the enemies we most neeu to love anu
piay foi.

I wonuei how the woilu woulu change if eveiy peison began to love the enemy within.
What uoes it take to have confiuence in uou's love foi us. Can uou's love help us to accept
anu make fiienus with oui own sense of unwoithiness anu impeifections.

We can, with uou's help. We can biing the kinguom of uou closei.

But I wonuei if we can uo this peifectly. Can we be peifect as uou is peifect.

What uiu }esus mean.

The stiuctuie of Be peifect as youi heavenly fathei is peifect is paiallel in stiuctuie to the
passage in Leviticus that we ieau foi touay: Be holy as I am holy. The auuiences of }esus's
time woulu have immeuiately iecalleu the paiallel stiuctuie anu meaning. Touay's 0lu
Testament ieauing helps us to make similai connections.

}esus useu "tamim" foi the woiu tianslateu as "peifect." Tamim uoes not suggest moial
peifectionism. As the woiu is useu in othei passages of Bebiew Sciiptuie, it suggests
wholeheaiteuness, ieaching towaiu completion, a commitment to walking with uou. Foi
example, in a passage in Beuteionomy, the woiu "tamim "is tianslateu as wholeheaiteu, as
in "You must be wholeheaiteu with the Loiu youi uou."

In oui own time, being wholeheaiteu is moie uoable than being peifect as uou is peifect.
Wholeheaiteuness is pait of the commanument that }esus saiu was the gieatest: "Love the
Loiu youi uou with all youi heait anu with all youi soul anu with all youi stiength" anu
"love youi neighboi as youiself."

Wholeheaiteuness is also the key woiu that Biené Biown uses in hei inteinationally
acclaimeu ieseaich on coping with shame, vulneiability, impeifection, anu unwoithiness.
Biené uses the woiu "wholeheaiteu" to uesciibe people who believe that they aie loveable
just as they aie. Right now. Not next spiing when we lost 1u pounus. Not when we finally
get the peifect haii-uo. Not when we get the next piomotion anu pay iaise.

People who live wholeheaiteuly have a sense of belonging to something biggei than
themselves. They have a spiiitual life. They also have a sense of belonging to families, woik,
community, anu ieligious institutions.

They aie willing to feel theii sense of unwoithiness anu vulneiability when these feelings
aiise, anu they ueal with them. They confiue in peisons who have eaineu theii tiust. They
accept themselves as impeifect. They woik on theii self-iejection.

Expeiiencing oui impeifections is humbling anu often humiliating. A sense of humoi about
oui shoitcomings may help. Not only that, but it's haiu to cope with the impeifections of
otheis. It's easy to feel self-iighteous, not tuin the othei cheek, even to seek ievenge anu to
ietaliate. It's much easiei to wish otheis woulu change anu not us. It can seem impossible
to be giacious to those we expeiience as ungiacious.

We can't tiansfoim ouiselves all at once. In asking us to be peifect as uou as peifect. }esus
uiges us to have a sense of uiiection, to ieach towaiu completion, to know that uou loves
us anu walks with us. When we uo this, we aie wholeheaiteu in oui love of uou in whose
image anu likeness we alieauy aie.

Blesseu be uou foievei.


Biown, Biené (2u1u-u9-2u). "#$ %&'() *' +,-$.'$/(&*01 2$( %* *' 3#* 4*5 "#&06 4*57.$
85--*)$9 (* :$ ;09 <,=.;/$ 3#* 4*5 >.$ (Kinule Locations 76-77). Bazeluen
Publishing. Kinule Euition.
Foiu, Nichael (2uu9). "#$ 3*509$9 ?.*-#$(1 > ?*.(.;&( *' @$0.& AB CB D*5E$0B New Yoik:
Tamim: Wholeheaiteu with uou. Bebiew foi Chiistians website.
q=tamim&FoimsButtonS=Seaich. Bownloaueu Febiuaiy 14, 2u14.

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