Sitting in a restaurant recently, eating a buckwheat crepe filled with brie and topped with strawberries, grapes and walnuts, I looked up and read a customer’s t-shirt. It said, “Progress, not perfection.” Irony seems to discover me these days.
There I sat, a Southern boy weaned on barbecue, fried chicken, biscuits and peach ice cream, eating a cardboard and pine bark crepe and no one offered me whipped cream to ease the journey across my taste buds. Some sweet iced tea would have been nice, too, but none could be found. My cardiologist calls this progress. Perfect, it’s not. June T. Cheatham is in heaven laughing.
Mom tried to perfect me, tried to pull me where I didn’t want to go. She coerced me, disciplined me, tricked me and threatened me. And failed. Her supreme effort hurled toward my conscience. But conscience conceives its own self-serving righteousness. Just look around.
A youngest child of four learns to observe. Watching became art and I honed a better effort not to be perfect except by my own standard. Where my siblings faltered at times resisting Mom’s formation of them, I felt it my duty to make a game of avoiding their missteps while learning from my own. The game carried me far. And all the while God watched and waited for the game to end and for me to ask life’s only question – now what?
God waits for us all because He wants to take us where we wish not to go. His desire is to perfect us. Too often we settle for progress attempting to rationalize self-righteousness. We think it’s enough to be good. We forgive ourselves not because forgiveness is good and right, but because forgiveness allows us to resist God’s call toward perfection. But God touches us deeper than our own conscience. As the years passed, my observations became less outward and more upward and inward. I tired of “walking where I wished” (John 21:18, NKJV).
This call to perfection has a purpose beyond self-progress. In Genesis 1:16 it says, “Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.” I accept the literal meaning in the text, but its figurative sense transforms me. Within us is God’s great light, the grace that saves us and justifies us through faith, His truth calling us to respond to His desire toward perfection. Humility, God’s desired and perfected obedience, reflects His greater light. When we engage and respond to grace, we become as the lesser light shining in darkness.
Progress may be good, but is not God’s perfection better? Is not God’s goal for our life worthy?
“Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10).
Maybe when we start sowing, we start shining.
“Those who have ears to hear, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15, NKJV).