That's what I told myself after I had fired a devastating critique at a friend. "I have very high standards for myself, and I don't expect anything from others that I don't demand of myself," I told my friend when she asked for mercy.
As she walked away, I continued the conversation with myself. At first, I reaffirmed with pride, "Well, I amm a perfectionist." Then as if in answer, a familiar Bible passage came to thought. "Perfect love casteth out fear." n1 "Well," I grumbled, "maybe I'm just not perfect at loving. But how can we ever expect to reach a higher quality of life if we don't demand higher performance?"
n1 I John 4:18.
Was Christ Jesus a perfectionist?
That question startled me. Jesus had certainly made great demands on his followers. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." n2 Yet Jesus' reputation is that he loved supremely, forgiving sinners, blessing the poor and downtrodden. He endured the cross, forgiving his persecutors.
n2 Matthew 5:48.
I could see I had some things to learn about perfection. "Dear God, what is your standard of perfection," I asked. "And how do you maintain it?" My prayer led me to my Bible and the many references there to God's perfection. I also studied the writings of the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. A deeply Christian woman, she records in her works the light that came to her in her search for a clearer understanding of the Bible, especially of Christ Jesus' works and words. She has much to say about spiritual perfection.
"Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man," she writes, "who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick." n3 In his demand for perfection, then, Jesus was not appealing to poor, feeble creatures to try to get better and better until someday they might become perfect.
n3 Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,m pp. 476-477,
Jesus' call for perfection was the call of the Christ, his divine nature, speaking to each individual thought. Jesus was relying not on the will and energy of mortals who might want to be good; he was relying in his healing work on the perfection of God. This Christly demand comes to each of us now, just as it did then, saying, "Awake to your pure and excellent perfection as the child of God."
God, Love, sets the standard of perfection and holds each of us, in our true nature, in complete compliance with that standard. Studying the first chapter of Genesis as well as the records of spiritual healing in the Bible, we find that God never created in man the capacity to reject perfection, to miss the mark, to slip from highest good.
The answer to my prayer for an understanding of perfection emerged in this idea. If you want greater effectiveness and higher performance from yourself and others, you'll have to seek these in God, Spirit. You'll never find them by making personal demands. You'll have to look at the profoundly spiritual nature of others and yourself, not at inadequate personalities. It will do no good to catalog the apparent faults you or they have and study them. Reach out for Christly evidence, which God gives each of us right now, that every individual is the cherished child in whom God delights.
Does that mean we ignore shoddy efforts? No. Certainly Jesus found he had to rebuke, openly and vigorously, prideful, deceitful, hypocritical, lustful thoughts and acts. But even these rebukes grew from his perfect love for his fellow beings.
In this same spirit, Mrs. Eddy recommends, "In patient obedience to a patient God, let us labor to dissolve with the universal solvent of Love the adamant of error, -- self-will, self-justification, and self- love, -- which wars against spirituality and is the law of sin and death." n4 As we reach for higher standards in our lives, we can expect that God will demand more perfect love.But we will find Love supplying the energy to meet that demand.
My own dialogue on perfection left me pondering this question: "If perfect Love is patient, can anything keep you, Love's child, from being patient -- perfectly patient?"
n4 ibid.,m p. 242.
DAILY BIBLE VERSE In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Philippians 2:3