IF THE STANDARD IS PERFECTION
by David Sisler
If the standard is perfection, you can break someone's spirit.
If the standard is perfection, none of us will ever measure up.
Kathy may have been a perfectionist. The young woman was zealous about her running. In the track meet just before her last race ever, she set a national collegiate record in the 10,000 meter race. Then, in her last race, inexplicably, Kathy quit after just 6,500 kilometers. She left the track, climbed a fence, ran two blocks and jumped from a bridge. Kathy did not die, but she did suffer spinal injuries which left her a paraplegic.
Twenty-one years old, a pre-med student, on the dean's list, but dissatisfied with her own performance and not measuring up to her own standards, Kathy suddenly became so down on herself that she left the race and tried to end her life.
I think of a man who has excelled in several careers--anyone of which would have been good for a lifetime's accomplishment for most of us: intelligence service, attorney, newspaper man, pastor. Both of his parents, he says, were perfectionists. If he made an A in school, his mother's only question was, "Did anyone get an A+?" A student was trying to figure out how long it would take a frog to get out of a 20 foot deep well if he hopped upward three feet at a time, and slid backward two feet before he could make another leap. The frog obviously progresses one foot forward each time. Twenty leaps takes him to the top of the well. But you see, this was not a math class, it was a class in speculative logic and the question was, does the frog get out on the twentieth try, or on the twenty-first?
One student, who missed the whole point of the exercise (or did he?) raised his hand and said, "If I were the frog, I'd just like to know I was making forward progress."
That same statement would probably be expressed, at one time or another, by most church members.
We've all stumbled across a Bible verse which says, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," and if we are totally honest with ourselves, we immediately know, "I don't measure up."
Perfectionism is one of the two great criticisms leveled at the Christian church. The other is hypocrisy.
But that little verse, tucked into the middle of "The Sermon on the Mount" does not mean we are to be absolutely, utterly, totally lacking in nothing. The United States Army comes closer to expressing what Jesus really meant by that statement than the man or woman who reads it and says, "I'll just quit now. I don't measure up. I can't measure up." The Army says, "Join us and we'll teach you to be all that you can be!"
God is perfect. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, God is all that he can be. That is the only standard of perfection that he requires of us. Otherwise, you can discount and disqualify all the great people of the Bible.
Abraham was a liar, but God called Abraham his friend and never did God write him off.
David was a murderer and an adulterer, but God never disqualified David from kingdom membership.
One day Jesus bragged on Peter and said, "On your kind of faith, I am going to build my church." A few days later Peter said, "I don't even know who this Jesus is." Not an admirable standard of perfection, but Peter was never dismissed.
Perhaps the greatest man of faith in the New Testament was Paul, and yet one day he wrote, "I despaired of living!" What did he mean? Simply that he thought God was not capable of taking care of him, that he thought he was beyond the limit even of God's help. Perfection? Hardly. Rejected? Never.
Does all of that mean that my personal failures, my unknowing miscalculations, and my deliberate sins do not matter to God? Not if you appreciate the price which Jesus paid.
Well then, what about the past? Paul said to forget it, forget what lies behind, and aim for the goal that is Jesus. With simple trust in Jesus, you can be all that you can be. Even if the best you can manage some days is three steps forward and two steps back.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 2/3/96
Copyright 1996 by David Sisler
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