The Perfection Trap


 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

There are two ways of understanding the P word. One takes you to heaven and the other takes you…elsewhere.

The Elsewhere destination is the standard world definition by which we live and breathe and go crazy with frustration. Here’s a few samples of it from news stories that were emailed to me. I’m told that they’re true:

Owner of Perfect House Lives in Car:

In fear of possibly disturbing the perfection that is his house, Donald Manison has been forced to live in his 1998 Dodge Caravan. “I became obsessive, everything in the house was so photo-perfect that I was eventually scared of walking on the carpet in fear that I might disturb the direction of the carpet threads.” Magazines wanting a glimpse and photos of the perfect house were limited to viewing through opened ground floor windows. When asked how long he will continue his present lifestyle he replied, “If living in my mini-van is payment for a perfect house, I’m willing to pay that price.”


Man Arrested for Sexually Assaulting Female Manikin 

A man was arrested Thursday for sexually assaulting a manikin at a women’s fashion outlet store. Store clerks describe how the man made several trips past the manikin, and then went up onto the podium where he commenced to fondle the manikin’s breasts. When questioned about the incident, he said “I couldn’t help it…”


Airlines Take Cost Cutting to New Lows

In an effort to cut costs, major airlines are resorting to cutting back even the smallest of items to curb expenditures. One in particular is the removal of barf bags on flights commencing August. “Annual savings are expected to exceed $450,200US”, stated investor relations manager Carol Bauer, “The small percentage who actually use them are increasing ticket prices for the rest.” But outraged motion sickness prone travelers had a less enthusiastic view of the matter. When the airlines were asked what they expected passengers to do in the event of motion sickness they replied, “Users of our planes who are prone to such sensitivities should bring with them preventative medicines and appropriate containers, we are not operating a flying hospital.”


Man Never Misses Trip To Gym For 5 Years 

In an attempt to force himself into a healthy routine of exercise, a Florida man hired a hit man to kill him if he failed to show up to any of his 3 weekly workouts for the past 5 years. “At first I thought the ridiculous membership fees and that ludicrous up front joining fee would make me workout so I wouldn’t waste the money – but that didn’t work. Within weeks I was coming up with all sorts of lame pathetic excuses not to go. So I decided that if money wouldn’t promote me to go, losing my life would. The hit man idea has worked like a charm, maybe even too good. But with all its ups and downs, my only complaint lately is that what I originally thought were expensive gym fees have been overshadowed by the high cost of the hit man. Now that I want to stop, I can’t because I told him to shoot me if I told him I wanted to give up.”


All these stories speak about a quest for perfection… the perfect body at any cost -even if it’s a manikin or if I’m forced to the treads at gunpoint-, the perfect house -even if I can’t live in it, the perfect airline that can’t put up with defective people and their barf bags (ok, I’m pushing it here).

Anne Lamott  described the frustration of such an understanding:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a poor first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

But what about the opening verse? “Be ye therefore perfect.” If you take the Bible at all seriously as some kind of rule for life, what do you make of it?

The trouble is that we derive our understanding of the word from the Latin perfectus which means flawless, without blemish, pristine.

But the Greek word is teleios which means “Entirely fitted to its purpose.”  Like these old shoes that I am presently wearing. They are not perfectus by any means, but they are entirely fitted to my feet, and to the purpose for which I wear them. Job done.

In fact, they are so well fitted, that I no longer have to look at my feet while I’m negotiating those stepping stones. I get to enjoy the journey.

How did they get to be “perfect”?

When Jesus dies on the cross, he said a very curious thing. He said: “It is finished,” right? Everybody remembers that. But many do not realise that the word he used was that same Greek term, derived from our word teleios. His life was completed, fitted entirely to his Father’s purpose. Job done.

When I believe in him, I take on his shoes. I walk his way and I tread the path of denying myself, taking up his cross and following him. It cannot be by dint of self-effort, (“lest any man should boast” or start singing “I did it my…..y way”) but through him and through a work already finished.

And so I –even I- can make bold to sing that old song

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

I dare not trust any Plan B of self-effort. I can only make a claim on what Christ has done for me, and not what I can manage for myself!

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