My first thought always when hearing today’s Gospel is “Good, I don’t have to be perfect.”
See, I have this perfectionism thing going. My spiritual advisor reminds me that my perfectionism is really pride in disguise; really me trying to be God. “And where’s the God in that?” she asks.
Well, God’s not in the room at all. If I practice perfection, I have no need of God. Self-sufficiency! Let me do it myself! And let me get it right!
There are days when I “to-do” everything right. From the minute I wake up till the minute I go to sleep, I follow the rules and the to-do list to a perfect T. I wake up when the alarm goes off and instantly put my feet on the floor, ready to go. I do my morning prayer and meditation as specified. I eat what I am supposed to. I spend within my budget. I am on time. I get along with everyone – if only because I am so attuned to following the plan for the day that I have little time or attention for anyone. (Interacting with others is never on the to-do list.)
I’ll admit, these days are few and far between. But when they happen – oh, the glory of perfection! The rapture of going to sleep knowing that every piece of my puzzled day snapped perfectly into place. I am indeed proud on days like these, because they prove I can manage my own life, thank you very much.
Funny thing on these quests for perfection: they are sought alone.
For example: I have recently discovered that nothing brings out my perfectionist tendencies like being a new mom. I am so inexperienced and dead-set on doing everything right for my four month-old son that I miss the obvious.
Sleep books stack high on my nightstand, so I can stay up late reading about how to perfect my son’s sleep schedule, so that his brain will develop perfectly and he will be perfectly happy all the time. According to my current reading, he should be napping three times a day, at 9, noon, and 3, and then going to bed for the night sometime between 6-7. This is the daytime schedule: 9, noon, and 3. This is the schedule.
Yesterday my husband spent the afternoon working from home, and he observed me trying all sorts of means to get our son to take his 3 o’clock nap: ignoring his fussing and crying; lying down with him in our bed. This went on for nearly an hour before Mark changed his diaper and gave him a toy and he settled down. An hour later, at dinner, our baby ate voraciously.
“Maybe he was hungry,” Mark said. “Maybe that’s why he couldn’t settle down to nap.”
After a few minutes of defensively denying that I could ever miss my son’s hunger cues, I had to admit, Mark may have been right. Our son will eat just a bit, fall asleep, and as soon as I put him in his crib, he’s wide awake again, and I spend an hour trying to get him to fall back to sleep. I interpret his fussing and crying as sleep-deprivation, which may only be partly right. But had I stopped and been present in the situation, rather than vehemently sticking to the plan of perfection, I may have noticed that perhaps he had just nodded off early and needed to finish his meal.
If I am so set on following the plan perfectly, I miss the reality of the situation. I miss the other person. I miss the relationship.
In today’s Gospel, the Pharisee who follows the law perfectly, speaks his prayer to himself. Whereas the tax collector, a sinner, would not even dare to raise his eyes to heaven, for he knew to whom he was talking. Following the rules is beside the point; what’s important to God is that we enter into a relationship with Him. So often, our failings make it possible for us to acknowledge our need for God, to enter into the room with him. But joy and gratitude could serve this purpose just as well. In the end, our fulfillment is not from doing everything right, but from connecting in a meaningful way to God, and to those around us.
Filed under: From the Pews in the Back | 3 Comments »