The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2021
Listening for Mercy
by Heidi J. KimStriving to better, oft we mar what’s well. —William Shakespeare, King Lear
As a lay person related to theologians, I find the task of reflecting on Scripture to be daunting. This week’s Gospel, prevalent in the end zones of football games, is even more intimidating as it is so well known. I actually thought about Googling what some biblical scholar had written and then putting my own spin on their wisdom. Then I thought about my sixth-grade students and the fact that I was holding myself to a standard of perfection that I would never demand of them. In fact, I was holding myself to a standard that even God would not demand of me.
The tyranny of perfectionism permeates our contemporary culture, and it is relentless. I see it in my students who feel pressured to perform in ways that may not align with their personal learning goals. I see it in my colleagues who heroically return to hybrid and distanced classrooms try-ing to build relationships and community with students even when the technology fails. I see it in myself as an educational leader confronting the twin pandemics of COVID and systemic racism; because I am so busy responding to everything, it feels like I’m accomplishing nothing.
I see it in people of faith who have responded to social, economic, epi-demiological, and environmental challenges with love and compassion, who still feel anxious and defeated. I think this relentless perfectionism is one of the ways that we have embraced darkness in our time. I spend far too much time regretting what I have not yet done, and this gets in the way of my doing what I can. It’s exhausting and antithetical to what I claim to believe as a Christian. And if I can lack compassion for myself, it permits me to lack compassion for others. I wonder if the extreme polarization of our time—the mistrust and antipathy that are expressed toward others who do not worship or vote as we do—is an outgrowth of that dark and sinful focus on perfectionism.
The readings for today tell a story of God’s mercy for us, in all of our sinfulness and imperfection. They remind us that we have been saved by faith, not by our own doing, but as a gift from God. That when we do what is true, our deeds will have been done in God. In these times when so many of us are striving to do what is not perfect, but true, may we remember to listen for God’s mercy and grace for our imperfect human-ity. How might we let go of “perfect” to embrace what is well and true?