I have a 2 and a half year old who loves to watch Mary Poppins. I do I love that movie, but after the millionth viewing it’s starting to get under my skin. Especially that scene where Mary pulls out her tape measure and measures herself to be ‘Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.’
This scene has always annoyed me a little and after all these viewings I finally started to see why: Mary Poppins comes off as pretty smug and arrogant with the children. I mean who carries around their own tape measure that measures their height to be perfection? Come on!
Reflecting upon my unusually strong reaction to such a trivial scene revealed some of my own underlying character defects. I too have a tendency to be slightly smug and arrogant from time to time; further confirming this one fundamental truth about my own human condition: I am not perfect, nor am I even close to being ‘practical perfect’ in any-way, let alone every-way.
This confession is hard to make because I am part of a denomination that talks a lot about Christian perfection. And, like some of my friends in ministry, I have struggled with this idea of Christian perfection. What does it mean when Jesus says to his follower ‘be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect’? I think that my struggle with this idea really boils down to the confusion that I often have between Christian perfection and perfectionism.
See perfectionism is having and completing your list of ‘to-dos’ in the right order at the right time, without error…… perfectionism is enforcing your own mistake management program of shame and guilt every time you slip up…. perfectionism is holding unreasonably high expectations or standards for yourself and others….. Perfectionism isn’t Christian because it is really all about ego, manipulating your life circumstance in order to be seen the right way or flawlessly working your way up the ladder of success until you’ve finally received the reputation you deserve.
None of this really fits at all with what Jesus taught, lived or advocated for, so what the heck does he mean by ‘be perfect, like my Father in heaven is perfect?’
Maybe what Jesus is actually getting at is not to rid yourself of all those rough edges that make you ‘you’, not to carefully micromanage every move you make so that you can be without fault….. but, maybe for Jesus perfection is when we allow ourselves to be loved first, with a perfect love, for all those things we try to hide. Maybe he meant we should allow ourselves to be loved first, with a perfect love, for all those mistakes we feel ashamed of, all those moments we felt exposed, vulnerable, or embarrassed. Maybe Christian perfection is the practice of receiving God’s extravagant wasteful love for us instantaneously in the moment of any perceived imperfection and allowing that love to make us whole.
Maybe that’s all it means; being perfect for Jesus means being made complete, whole, connected. It seems to me that this would make a little more sense because ultimately the most perfect and awesome thing we can ever do or participate in is love. The coolest thing about the spiritual life is that once you start receiving love for all of those imperfections and rough edges you start loving others for theirs, instead of in spite of theirs. Because in the end grace begets grace and loved people love.