According to Merriam Webster's online dictionary, the word perfect in its verb form means to bring to final form; improve or refine. To polish is offered as a synonym. This definition suits me fine. In fact, I plan to adopt perfect as a verb and make a concerted effort to never use perfect as an adjective again. Now let me tell you why.
If Christianity has taught me anything, it has taught me that the gift of life is a journey. I will never be finished with this journey. I will never arrive. There will always be room for improvement, refinement, and polishing. I will be brought into final form, only in God's time.
Our most recent Sunday School discussion started off with a Pandora's box type question: Does God have a purpose for us? This question inevitably leads to another and another: well what is that purpose? Is it one purpose? Is there more than one path to that purpose? Do we know what the plan is? Are we happy with God's purpose for us? If we aren't happy is it because we aren't living His plan for us? You can see where I'm going with this line of questioning. It really is a Pandora's box and it never ends. After hours (seriously hours) of reflection on this series of questions, I have come to the conclusion that this line of questioning will not bring the clarity we as a class were seeking.
I prefer to adopt the premise, that God uses us for His purposes and His purposes are infinite and ever changing and ultimately unknowable. I think there are times, situations, or moments (pick your own label) in earthly time that we feel deep in our gut, soul, or core (pick your own label) that we are "right on" with what we think God's plan is for us. But most of the time we are walking into a never ending sun-filled horizon, bathed in the warmth of the only certainty we can have--God is going to use us, but the who, what, when, where, why, and how will not be revealed to us in our time.
I think you have three choices when it comes to dealing with this certain uncertainty:
1. You can fight it, because you are a control freak. I can say this, because I have spent a great deal of time with this choice. Sometimes I return to this choice without warning. Fighting certain uncertainty puts you at cross purposes with perfect, the verb, because we cannot be brought into final form without allowing "otherness" (God, the Holy Spirit, life events, people, and places) to shape, refine, and improve us.
2. You can be fatalistic about certain uncertainty and use it as an excuse to never look up or out on your journey. I really don't think my idea of certain uncertainty implies we are merely puppets of some big toy maker in the sky. We're more like clay being shaped and molded. Every interaction leaves a fingerprint, an indention, a fissure, a cleft, a crease, a smoothed out place, a rounded edge, a jagged edge, the combinations are endless. You're still on a journey. If you miss the opportunities to be perfected, you'll still be shaped, but instead of improving and refining love you encounter in your life, you'll be wondering where love is .
3. We can accept the invitation of certain uncertainty. We can do and be more, to and for others, than we could ever imagine by yielding to the invitation of grace that is constantly presented to us by God. Allowing God to perfect us in His love is the essence of our purpose. The ways and means of experiencing the essence of our purpose are important, but they aren't the essence. I think that's why deathbed conversions are the same as life long followers of the Way in God's eyes. A dear mentor and friend once described essence as a constant flow of grace. It is pouring over and around us. We have only to reach out and take it. Sometimes it takes our earthly lifetime to find it. All journeys are equal. We all start out the same, completely helpless. Regardless of privilege in order to continue to draw breath and thrive we are completely dependent on someone or something else. It's how we respond to the who, what, when, where, why, and how in our life that perfects us for God. Jesus Christ was a living example of "the essence". He showed us what allowing God to perfect us looks like. In order to have "on earth as it is in heaven" we must submit to perfection.
My journey of purpose doesn't look like your journey and your journey doesn't look like mine. Being on a journey of purpose cannot be validated by social norms or cultural constructs. I don't mean to imply we don't try to follow what we think is a call from God in our life choices, career choices, life changes, or religious practice. For some people part of the journey is a response to a calling that manifests itself in a career choice. But not everyone can fight fires and save lives. Again, it's essence that's important. That's why we as humans are drawn to the underdog. That's why we love a good story of triumph over adversity. That's why we are so amazed at the Mother Theresa's of the world. It was Mother Theresa's essence that made her so special. It was her acceptance and submission to being perfected in love that we are drawn to.We love watching God perfect other people because it gives us hope. Hope is also a verb. We improve. We refine. We perfect. We hope.
Here is my vision of God's purpose for me. Draw a reddish brown, dirt road (no I'm not copying a Brooks and Dunn song; bear with me) stretching across the page towards a horizon emblazoned by a golden sun that is on the horizon. You don't know if the sun is rising or setting because all around it, the world is glittering and bright like that instant in both a sunrise or sunset. Everything touched by the sun is glowing and alive. Now cut away a cross section of that road. There are endless layers to the road. These layers represent different parts of my life--my past, my present, my future. If you were to paint me on this road you would paint me in the act of moving, but you wouldn't be able to tell if I was moving forward, sideways, or backwards--because at any point on this journey I could be moving in any of those directions or all of them at the same time. Barely visible, but always present, like the shimmering of the air in the desert heat, are my opportunities for grace. These opportunities take the form of shimmer because 1) I do not know the who, what, where, when, why, or how of the opportunity before or after it occurs; and 2) These opportunities are interactive. They are both expressive and receptive. You cannot tell exactly when the shimmer begins or ends, because the wavelike motion is infinite. These moments on the journey are as much about the doing as the being done to, the being as the being with, the teaching as the learning from. These waves can be described as my daily interactions with others, the way in which I respond to needs in our community, how I seek out social justice, simple acts of loving kindness between families, neighbors, coworkers, and total strangers. It is in these moments that I am perfected by God for His purpose. My response to God's purpose for me is to say yes to the journey. Yes to grace. Yes to hope, refinement, and improvement. My response to God's purpose for me is to be perfect.