“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Perfection. Every woman I know strives for it and comes up woefully short, myself included. We want to be perfect wives and mothers, to be successful in our work, have clean homes, pray as much as we should, be good friends, exercise and eat right.
In Catholic circles, especially, we often strive to be like Mary. We hold her up as our model which is as it should be. Yet, maybe, we shouldn’t be quite so hard on ourselves when we don’t quite measure up to that standard. After all, we believe Mary was sinless. She may have been tempted, but she never failed. She had an unlimited store of God’s grace which never let her down. We, on the other hand, have the burden of sin. We make mistakes. We screw up. We fall down. We hurt others and get hurt ourselves. We don’t always forgive others the way we should. We are not always patient and loving. We have to get up every day and face the consequences of our failures. It’s enough to make me want to pull the covers up over my head and stay in bed . . . permanently.
Yes, I realize that is not actually an option (although some days I really wish it was). God has given me a job on this Earth, and my two children are going to make sure I get out of bed every morning and do it, even if it means they have to jump on me, turn on the light, and pull off my covers to get me to get up and face the day!
Christian writer Joan C. Webb has written two very insightful books on dealing with our imperfection, The Relief of Imperfection and It’s a Wonderful (Imperfect) Life. In the latter, she writes, “It’s truly a relief once you and I realize that God doesn’t expect us to be, do, or make it all just right, all the time, in order to be valuable and compassionate friends, mothers, colleagues or Christians. . . It helped when I discovered that the original word for ‘perfect’ means ‘to be committed to growth and completion.’ While growth is daunting at times, it is doable. . . It’s okay with God if we slow down, relax and smile in the midst of our imperfect realities. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
I like Webb’s definition of perfection – “to be committed to growth and completion.” It means that I and all my fellow sisters in the trenches are works in progress. It changes the standard by which we judge ourselves. Maybe we haven’t reached the pinnacle of our development, but we are all growing. We are all trying to move along the right path, to grow closer to God and to do His will. Yes, we screw up, but maybe the mistakes help us to grow as well.
We want to be complete, but it will take a lifetime to get there. In the meantime, we can keep trusting that we are making progress. It may be the two steps forward, one step backward kind of progress, but it is still moving forward. We can also enjoy life as it is. We can accept our imperfection. We can accept that we are not God. We can accept that it is not in our power (nor is it our job) to make everyone around us happy all the time. We can trust that God knows what He is doing, that He can use us in spite of our failings. We can lean on God through it all. His perfection will carry us through.