I’m not exactly Monk but I am a perfectionist. I’m always trying to be or do my best, exacting traits that go well with being a scientist. Yet with the coming of Easter – the solemn celebration of a loving God – I’m reminded that true perfection is learning how to love imperfection, or at least to accept it graciously – in yourself and in others.
I’ve always tried getting along with everyone, no matter what, and been treated well in return by most everyone I’ve ever met. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s not because I’m perfect that I’m likeable; to the contrary. I’m least likeable, I think, in those moments when I behave most like a perfectionist.
My wife certainly doesn’t like it when I notice crumbs on the kitchen counter after she’s finished cleaning it. And my teenage son is decidedly unhappy with me when I straighten up his bathroom after he’s allegedly done the job.
Yet, as if by magic, I become positively loveable when I myself mess up – well, after the chiding is over. Suddenly, I’m human; I’m relatable; I’m embraceable.
That’s what Easter is all about for me. Jesus was absolutely perfect – according to us Christians, the very incarnation of God himself; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Creator of the universe. But he didn’t behave like a perfectionist – unlike the same God we see in action throughout the Old Testament.
Beginning with Genesis and ending with Malachi, we read about what it’s like to live with the father of all perfectionists. God’s behavior in those early years was severe, demanding, punishing. His overbearing behavior was exactly what we’d expect from a perfect God who loves perfection – a God who’s not very loveable.
Yet Jesus, Christians believe, was not only fully God, he was also fully human – a paradox that can be understood in terms of today’s science and that I explain in my forthcoming book, due to be released next spring. Despite Jesus’s perfection, he was relatable and embraceable because he evidenced humanlike weaknesses.
Nowhere in the Bible is this more clearly illustrated than when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, aware that he’s about to be wrongly arrested, convicted, and crucified. He rails against God’s plan – sweats blood, even, we’re told – wailing miserably: "Abba, Father … everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”
Still, for all his relatable, embraceable humanness, Jesus finally relents and does something distinctly divine: he acts out, for all time, a ceremonial sacrifice like none other in human history. A sacrifice intended to demonstrate what perfect love looks like. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
At Easter, billions of Christians in every nation on the planet celebrate the perfect God who went from behaving like our harrier to being our friend. A God who knows that our imperfections make it impossible for anyone to earn his love or a place in heaven. Who loves us nevertheless, warts and all. Who’s flung open the gates of heaven itself to anyone and everyone, despite our imperfections.
In short, at Easter, we Christians celebrate a God who models what perfect love looks like – forgiving, generous, self-sacrificial. A God who doesn’t expect us to be perfect – and certainly doesn’t want us behaving like overbearing perfectionists. A God who challenges us instead to become im-perfectionists.
What does it mean to be an imperfectionist? It means that on those occasions when my wife doesn’t live up to my expectations, I should still love her. It means that whenever my son fails to do a chore, or doesn’t do it well, I should still love him. It means that whenever I myself mess up, I should still love me.
Above all, it means that I should remember my place and responsibilities in the great scheme of things – not just at Eastertime, but always. If a perfect God in a perfect heaven is able to love anyone and everyone despite their imperfections, then the perfectionist in me should strive to do the very same thing.