Perfection and Redemption

by Mary Kay Glazer

My goal in life is to be perfect. Or, maybe not so much my goal, since that implies a positive aspiration. Perhaps a better way of saying this is that I am driven, incessantly, to be perfect. There is a bit of arrogance in this, and indeed I am not entirely easy with it. Yet there it is. This is not a new self-directive. I have lived most of my life under its rule, though it is only now that I recognize how deeply embedded this drive is, how deeply I believe that my redemption lies in my efforts to be perfect and my eventual perfection. How much this belief shapes how I am in the world and how I feel about myself as a person.

I see the pressure of perfection in my relationships with my family of origin. If only I can get it just right, if only I can be perfect in my interactions with them, we will have a harmonious and tenderly loving relationship; my past will be better. I see it in my response to opportunities for Quaker committee work and other projects, professional and personal. If I don’t think I can do everything just so, that is, perfectly, then I had best say no. I see it in relationships with friends and acquaintances. If I am not the perfect, and perfectly giving, friend to them, then why would they want me as a friend?

Perhaps most importantly, or most poignantly, this need for perfection is how I try – so hard, and sometimes so desperately – to win over the love of God. Yes, here is my confession: if I can just get this faith thing right, God will love me more. God will love me best. Because how could God be anything but disappointed in me as I am now? Imperfect.

Here is what I believe: perfection seems more possible to me than healing from the wounds that have led to this fruitless hunt.

So. Perfection as the path to redemption? I realize more and more the danger of this false promise. One, because it is impossible, of course, regardless of what I seem to believe in that deepest part of me. Two, if I am chasing after perfection – doing and saying everything perfectly, living perfectly, being nothing short of perfect as a human in the world – if that is what I seek, then clearly, I am not seeking God. Three, related to two, if I am perfect, what need do I have of God?

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:15-17 (see also Luke 5:30-32 and Matthew 9:10-13)

In my desire, my longing, my ache to be worthy of God’s call, I have striven for perfection when in fact God’s call is right here, right now, known only in my bumps and bruises, my faults and failings. When I at last rest from my pursuit of my perfection, that is when I have a chance of hearing Jesus’ words, a chance of receiving them deeply: “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

The blessed path, not to perfection, but to wholeness – a healing swath through my wounds.