The end of the semester is upon us with both relief and alarm. If you are like me, you have so much to accomplish, deadlines to meet, people to see, and progress to make. And of course, we want to do it well, to get good grades, to feel good about our grading, composition, and correspondence. I tell myself and students often “a good paper is a finished one.”
There is, however, a consistently present drive to “perfection.” Not all bad, it urges us toward a better grade, a more adequate answer, deeper mastery. The same drive that moves us forward also contributes to paralyzing anxiety and comparison, reluctance to be creative, to color outside the lines, and even devastation when we fail to do as well as we had hoped.
And then there is this Biblical injunction that rings in some of our ears, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5: 48). We can try, but we cannot be without fault, not perfect. No way! Not without devastation.
Biblical perfection, however, is not exactness, not without failure, not “perfect” the way our culture defines it. The Greek word in this passage is τέλειος meaning complete or whole. The aspiration is toward wholeness, as God is whole. We are to be whole, full, complete, lacking nothing. We are not striving for perfection, but for a wholeness that encompasses every part of who we are. Some have named this radical self-love, accepting and holding in respect all the pieces of ourselves, even the contradictory ones, the ones that are sometimes hard to love, even the parts we do not yet know.
We when write those final papers, projects, exams, and reports, let’s include all the parts of ourselves, as best we can—body, mind, and soul—as the Elon Mission statement includes them. A perfect paper includes your heart. A perfect song or piece of art involves your mind, and a perfect semester keeps your body and soul together. A perfect life includes all the necessary pieces to make meaning, to give our existence purpose, to inspire us to love.
This is perfection, that we love our whole selves the way God loves us. This effort, while a challenge, is absolutely doable.
The Rev. Dr. Jan Fuller is University Chaplain and Dean of Multifaith Engagement, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org