Perfected Distraction

The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. – 1 John 2:4-6

When I see the word “perfected,” my first thought is of my mother, although she died twenty-five years ago. I once found a greeting card that summed up perfectly what I inherited from her. A cartoon lady peeked over a pile of fashionable luggage. Above the image, the card read, “I may have baggage…” Inside lay the punchline: “…but at least it’s cute and matching.”

I acquired my perfectionist baggage (of course it matches!) through a combination of nature and nurture. My mother was the kind of person who had a perfect way to do everything: modestly, thoughtfully, thoroughly, and in a timely fashion. I am the kind of person who hopes to show and win love by being agreeable and cooperative, so I tried to do things her way in the hope of pleasing her. To this day, I sometimes hear her voice as an inner critic when I have left things undone or incomplete.

Perfectionism may leave us paralyzed, afraid to do anything for fear of getting whatever it is wrong. My tangle with this word, “perfected,” distracts me from the truth central to the whole gospel: God is love, and the love of God for us takes its ultimate form in anyone who follows the commandment to love God and love others, as Jesus did.

My pile of baggage, although cute and matching, has blocked the view long enough.

Holy One, help us to leave behind what we do not need. Set us free to follow you. Amen.

Small Group Discussion

Martha Spong About the Author
Martha Spong is a UCC pastor, a clergy coach, editor of The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle, and coauthor of Denial is My Spiritual Practice (and Other Failures of Faith).