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With truth in teasing, Hubby Dear has often confronted me with a statement delivered to the air surrounding us. “It must be wonderful to be perfect. One day, perhaps, I will be as perfect as you are.” His sarcasm does not suffer from subtlety! With sword swiftness it cuts through to the heart of the matter, exposing the marrow of my need to be in control. Being perfect — as I was perceived — is in no way identical to being perfected! As Scripture says, my husband catches me, the “wise one,” in the throes of my craftiness.
When I point out his inadequacies, I laud my efforts. When he is found lacking, I am discovered as more than adequate. His failures are my successes. The speck on his washed dish makes my pot sparkle by comparison. His memory loss is my gain. His slowness demonstrates my speed. And the list goes on.
This kind of perfection is more about doing things the way I think they should or must be done and less about learning new ways ... new ideas ... new concepts that might make me a better person. Being perfect speaks to the imperfection of the other rather than the faults I bear.
The call of the Gospel — for that matter, the cry of Leviticus — is about being perfected. Its command is: “Be holy, for the Lord your God is holy.” That’s it, in a nutshell. What we determine to be the content of this holiness, how we attain and maintain it is a whole other story. It is the saga of a lifetime — and it begins with blessing the God who has made us icons of divinity.
So what is holiness? If I look to God as exemplar, my answer is both simple and profound. It is the pleasure and pain of being a whole person — someone who never forgets benefits and pardons all iniquities. It is a person who heals all ills and redeems others from possible destruction — crowning them, instead, with kindness and compassion. Holy ones are those who are merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness. They do not requite according to crimes, but put transgressions far from those who commit them. Holy people know, honor, and respect the fact that they abide in the Spirit of God — and God abides in them.
An aura surrounds holy people. It both attracts and repels. We like to be with them as much as we fear their presence. Their transparency brings light to our opaqueness; their openness gives pause to our parsimoniousness. Holy ones command a certain process of being perfected because they themselves are immersed in it. Being perfected is their way of life. It is their mode of existence. They are ready to be transformed, changed for the better, at all times and with all people. An excitement for God, a profound and serious enthusiasm, marks their way. It sparks in them vitality meant to be shared with all for the invigoration of the entire world.
Holy people are different. Their power is fueled with powerlessness. Their hunger is for the kind of justice that is indiscriminately universal. More than giving the shirt off their back, they will hand over their coat, as well. Less is not more in their book, at least not when it comes to giving. Holiness is nothing if it is not replete with generosity.
I listened to the story of a divorced woman who deliberately set out to maintain a friendship with her ex-husband, although their separation could easily have been ugly, hateful, and hurtfully divisive. Her husband, now X-ed out of her existence, might well be considered an enemy to be determinedly destroyed. She spoke of praying long and hard before beginning the struggle toward amicability. At first, it was done pragmatically. Her labor was centered on avoiding long battles that would set family members against each other. Soon, however, it began to dawn on her that she was being changed. What could have been a lifetime of lonely bitterness became an experience of love. She was being perfected — and holy is her name.
I think of sisters who find it more than difficult to deal with their vastly different temperaments. They want to be friends as well as relatives but cannot seem to unveil a common ground. Each believes that the other is pressing her into service for two miles and is willing only to go the one — if that! Each sees the other as begging for more than is deserved. They want an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Yet, having tried to extract that kind of justice, they remain wanting more – and getting less.
One cries out, “Why is it always me who has to take the initiative and make the first move?” The other stays silently distant with identical words taking harbor in the depth of her spirit. Each awaits the perfection of the other without approaching their own need to be perfected. Their ache, a soul-soreness, is painful to watch and hurts the heart — theirs and ours alike.
I can say much to each one or say little. It will not really matter until each one is ready to hear — really hear — the cry of Scripture: “Be holy, for the Lord your God is holy.”
No one can make us hear and respond to those words. Only we ourselves can finally come to the conclusion that nothing else really works. No retribution ... no vengeance ... no grudge bearing ... no punishment ... no persecution of our persecutors can match the wholesome holiness that is ours when we stop seeking perfection and start searching for ways to be perfected — and accepting them as gifts.
Though it is admittedly not an easy task, it is only when we actively enter into the process of being lovers, of becoming people who love, that we taste the painful pleasure of being perfected. Hurts will still be ours, but they will not destroy us. Pain will continue to plague our steps, but it will not take our breath away. Death-dealing darkness will no longer be a part of living. In its stead, there will only be the bright promise born in the heart of holiness. There will be denial but no dearth in life. Generous giving will be abundantly gifted.
Be holy and know that all things are ours. And we are Christ’s. And Christ is God’s. This pleasure surmounts the pain of being perfected.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives,” lead chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com.