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Conversion, Human Dignity, Love, Metanoia, Transformation
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Perfect

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If there was one thing you could (magically, effortlessly) change about yourself, what would it be?

Play along: come up with one thing.  Perhaps it’s…

  • developing virtuous habits (and eliminating unhealthy ones)
  • addressing some physical characteristic (in the realm of body image or ability)
  • acquiring a desired talent

Sit with your answer.  What does it tell you about yourself?

  • Is it just for fun?
  • Does it have to do with something you struggle with?
  • How does it relate to your personal goals?  Hopes?  Dreams?

  • What does it tell you about where you are on the spectrum between self-love and self-loathing?

In the lifelong journey of growth and change, there is usually some thing or another that we are working on improving.  This is good.  However, there is a legitimate concern for our spiritual well-being insomuch as how we treat ourselves in the process.

You are a child of God, created in God’s image and likeness.

Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.  God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

  • When it comes to the things about yourself that you want to change, do you honor the image of God within?  Do you treat yourself with the love and respect that the image of God deserves?  

Healthy self-love appreciates the goodness that is.  It is from a place of love, not hate, that we are called to conversion – or metanoia.

In the reflection “Just Paint Over It,” I referenced the Greek word metanoia while discussing the transforming process of forgiveness.  Metanoia [pronounced meta-noy-ah] translates as “a change of heart.” Meaning a conversion where the person turns away from what is destructive, hurtful, hateful, and instead turns towards God.

Too often, however, we can be overly critical of ourselves in a way which is neither helpful nor loving.  There is a fine line between goals that motivate and the expectation of nothing less than perfection that can shut a person down.

The need for perfection.

There are two times that the word “perfect” appears in the gospels, both in the Gospel According to Matthew.  The first is in Matthew 5:48, which is the part of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus discusses Love of Enemies.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

The Mount of Beatitudes and The Sea of Galilee

The second appears in Matthew 19:21 within the story of The Rich Young Man.

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”  He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good.  If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)

If you wish to be perfect…

In reality, there is always room for improvement.   If we think we are all done with the personal/spiritual growth thing (as if to say: “I have arrived”), we are reminded that our work is never complete.It is then, that Jesus will say to us:

If you wish to be perfect…

It’s the all-or-nothing extremes that are useless.  Unhelpful.  Paralyzing.  In no way does Jesus insinuate that this rigid interpretation of perfection is what we are to aim for.

Growth—change—is a process.  Metanoia is a “turning” away from something (sinful) and towards God (who is wholeness, life, and truth).

Think about the self-improvement / growth things that you are working on in your life.  Do you treat yourself with love in the process of turning?  Or do you become overly critical and hateful about perceived failures?  Because that “hateful” thing is not what Jesus would do.

To move beyond my own struggle with perfectionism, I found it helpful to redefine “perfect” as functioning at my best, right now.  For me that implies being my best and doing my best in the present moment, while looking to take the next step to become better.

The “next step” is an important concept in overcoming paralyzing perfectionism, because it recognizes the space between the “reality of now” and the “ideal” or “goal.”  And in order for it to function, the “next step” should be realistic.  Small.  Doable.

And then celebrate the success.  And build upon it.  Because that is perfect.

You are not now what you were… You are not now what you will be when God has perfected you.                  – St. Vincent de Paul


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