While doing some online shopping over the holidays, I came across a company touting what they described as a relentless pursuit of a better product. Always looking for improvement, they claimed “positive dissatisfaction” with themselves. Basically they were saying that their product was the best money could buy but they would keep trying to offer something even better. I made the purchase, mainly because of previous experience with the company, but their ad campaign left a positive impression. I like a quest for improvement.
I’m not aware of anyone who lacks the need for improvement. Humans seemed wired to want to be better than we are. We make New Years’ resolutions. We take on Lenten disciplines. We want to put past mistakes behind us and do better. We reflect on experiences so as to make changes which will benefit us and the people around us. No one has a job that can be done perfectly. No one is in a relationship that doesn’t need to get a little better. We can’t reach the perfect place and stay there for the rest of our lives. We’re either growing or dying, improving or going backwards.
Two examples of unhealthiness are: those who believe they can never do anything right; and those who believe they are never wrong. Those folks, at either end of the spectrum, are pretty hard to deal with and are living precarious existences. The first, those who think they can never do anything right, are so hard on themselves that they make relating to them impossible. It’s hard to love people who cannot love themselves. The second, those who think they are always right, are also impossible to deal with. It’s hard to love people who deride the rest of the world. Somewhere in the middle of these two poles there is a healthier approach to living and relating. Those who are aware of their imperfections and are seeking to grow are the ones we can learn from and relate to, the ones we can be intimate with and share our own struggles and breakthroughs.
In Matthew’s gospel (5.48), Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” This falls in a section where Jesus is teaching about loving our enemies and becoming more generous in our daily living. None of us can actually attain such perfection, yet our Lord and Savior commends a life of seeking and growing. Perfection constantly evolves and is never stagnant.
As you enter this new year and begin the season of Epiphany where we are called to embrace the light of hope that Christ bears, where are you on your journey? What sort of steps are you being invited to take on your way to completeness? Are you so mired in the poverty of your own soul that you cannot see the growth that God might have in store for you? Are you so afraid of being wrong or less than someone else that you are denying your own need for improvement?
The Christian journey seems to involve daily adjustments in our perspective. Some days we need to forgive ourselves and lighten up a bit in our approach. Some days we are so fearful about our lack of worth that we develop a laziness that keeps us from taking on anything challenging. Other days we over-rationalize and justify our behavior and intentions. We are so fearful of admitting the need for growth that we develop another sort of laziness, thinking we’re better than most and don’t need to change.
Christ comes to forgive us for all that we have done and left undone, all that we will ever do or not do that causes us to be less than we are created to be. Some days, we just need to accept that we are loved and forgiven, dust ourselves off and do a little better. Christ also comes to transform us and empower us for the very kingdom he brings. Some days, we have to push ourselves to see that we are failing to do things that only we can do. God, through Christ, offers us hope and power. God leaves some mighty important work for us to take on ourselves. Know that you are loved as you are and seek to be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Vestry Elections will be held at the Annual Meeting on January 27. Nominees are: Betty Beale, Tracey Campbell, John Carter, Rosa Davis, Will Gunter, Brice Johnston, Katie Keller, Keith Miller, Scott Mitchell, Mary Nelms Parsons, Nick Prillaman, Radney Ramsey, Emily Wise. If you are unable to attend the Annual Meeting you may cast your ballot ahead of time.