The Tyranny of Perfectionism

Be perfect, as your Father is perfect in heaven.  - Matthew 5:48

The late father of a friend loved to tell this joke whenever he met his children’s new friends.

The Father: “You know what, I used to be perfect.”
Gullible Kid: “What happened?”
The Father replied, “One time, I thought that I had made a mistake!”

This “goofy dad” joke always made his kids groan, but it also filled them fear.  How could they possibly live up to such a perfect father? 

We often ask that same question when we hear Jesus’s final admonition in his Sermon on the Mount.  We marvel at his beautifully transformative words.  “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” Go the extra mile.”   Then suddenly, it dawns on us how impossible these words are to put into action.  And then, Jesus adds, “Oh, by the way, as you’re working on that to-do list, don’t forget to be perfect too.”  Really?    

For anyone who struggles with the tyranny of perfectionism, and who doesn’t these days, Jesus’ words are not just uncomfortable; they are downright overwhelming.  Flooded with fear, we ask, are my grades good enough for college, are my children attending the right schools, is my parenting flawed, am I loving my neighbor, why can’t I answer all those emails, watch the game, get to the gym, and which fork am I supposed to use at that elegant dinner party?  Surely this is not what Jesus meant when he tells us to be perfect?

Blessedly, there is good news; after all, it is Jesus speaking.  His “command” to love others, care, forgive, practice generosity and be perfect is not an indictment, but rather an invitation to love as God loves.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount offers us a portrait of an all loving Parent who seeks us out, welcomes us home and graciously calls us children.  Jesus is not asking us try harder, but to walk with him in amazement at the power of what Love can do through us, because God’s love can do infinitely more than we can imagine.

“Love wins,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, and creator of Momastery.com  and the best-selling book, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed.  Glennon grapples with life’s imperfections with a dose of courage and a dash of wit, and reveals that life is indeed challenging.  But with love, forgiveness and honesty, together we can do hard things.  As children of an all-loving God, we need not just survive, but rather together we can thrive.  Glennon will be with us at Christ Church Cathedral tonight.  If you are in Lexington, I hope you stop by as we explore the power of such amazing Love.

The Very Rev. Carol Wade 


Register for Carry On, Warrior here until 3:00pm today. You may also register at the door. The event begins at 7:00pm. $20/person.

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