Saturday, January 26, 2013

The New Perfect

We all know the old saying "nobody's perfect." Most of us have said it to console someone (or ourselves) when they made a mistake. We all seem to understand that we're only human, and humans aren't perfect, but I am amazed at how often we strive to be perfect and stress ourselves out when we fall short.

Now, there are certainly cases when wanting everything to be "perfect" is understandable. Nobody faults the bride who insists that everything is just right on her wedding day, when she has dreamed of it for years. Then there is the young man who carefully planned his proposal to her a year earlier - he wanted that to be perfect. In a couple of years they will host his parents for Thanksgiving, and of course, they will want the meal to be a success.  All these examples make sense, and there is definitely nothing wrong with trying our best and giving everything our best shot. However, if we take an honest look around us, even at our own lives, we can see the pressure that many feel to be flawless, or at least put up a perfect facade that goes further than just trying our best.

This pressure to never fall short can come from many places. Some parents expect perfection from their children, so as they grow, many of them can never really break free from this unrealistic expectation. This is not intended as any criticism of the parents - many of them probably felt a similar pressure to be perfect. However, as the children reach adulthood, they are driven in every aspect of their lives to be perfect, and they will likely be parents that require the same of their children.

There are many young people who see perfection portrayed in the media, and that becomes the goal they strive to attain. The young girl sees "perfection" in all the television shows, Facebook ads and magazine articles, so that image, however unattainable, shapes her perception of what is normal. After all, the cutest guys go for the thinnest girls with the clearest skin, right? To become one of these girls, they will often do whatever it takes, including starving themselves or working out tirelessly.

It is the same for young boys. They grow up with the action figure who has six-pack abs and bulging biceps, so they feel that they must have the same. The hottest girls go for the guys with the fastest cars, the slickest suits and the best hairlines, right? They begin to believe this and that pressure helps shape their lives, as well.

Because we all have to deal with the pressure to be perfect, it is important that we understand the Lord's perspective on perfection. In Revelation 2, Jesus sent a letter to church in Thyatira, and what He told them can help us understand how he feels about this:

   "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
   ... I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first ... (Revelation 2:18a, 19).

Jesus' words to the people of Thyatira were very encouraging. He knew they weren't perfect, but He knew they were improving all the time. He saw their good works, and He saw that they were doing a better job now than when they first started. This is a very comforting look into the heart of God and into how he sees us. He understands that we are not perfect, but He is pleased when we are constantly improving.

On a side note, we need to bear in mind that this does not pertain to salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us:

   For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
   not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Salvation is a free gift of God - it is not anything we can obtain by working. In regard to salvation, Jesus makes us perfect, but in every other area of life, He is pleased by our improvement. What matters is that we are moving forward!

He sees that we are doing better today than we were yesterday. Maybe yesterday we struggled with doubt, but today we have learned to trust Him more. Maybe last year we had a foul mouth, but this year, by His grace, we haven't spoken a profane word in six months. Perhaps our credit card statements reflect a past of financial mismanagement, but now we have determined to start being responsible with our money. If today we are not happy with our physical condition, let us make plans to make changes going forward, or perhaps learn to think differently about ourselves going forward. Last year our communication with our spouses may have left much to be desired, but this year we are scheduling time each week to be alone and talk about our lives. All of this is improvement! Our deeds of late are greater than at first.

By the grace of God we have been saved. We are not perfect, but also by His grace we are improving, and improvement is the new perfect!