When my guy friends start talking about fixing cars, repairing appliances, remodeling or building stuff in the house/yard, or other typical “guy” stuff, it’s like they’re speaking Greek to me. Normal “manly” endeavors like this are so NOT my jam. When helping friends or family move I’ll regularly find myself feeling awkward or helpless when something needs to be assembled, disassembled, or some other “guy” job arises. For years this has left me feeling ashamed and less than. But these days I’m working on and getting better at giving myself permission to be ME, which I think is part of what Jesus is getting at when He tells us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Shifting my views about myself is bringing an amazing wholeness and helping me better love others as they are, so I figured I’d share some of my journey and thoughts with you here.
In many ways our “parents”, whether literal or figurative, shape who we become. While a good number of my guy friends grew up working and learning side-by-side with their dad how to build, repair, and take apart things, in my formative years my dad and I played strategy and war games, while also reading a lot. While many men grow up learning how to create with their hands, I was raised to create with my mind and words.
My brother-in-law, Erick, is FANTASTIC at repairing, assembling, disassembling, and such. I was just helping him and my sister move this past weekend when I had an AHA moment this whole blog is about. After we’d filled a trailer full of boxes and furniture, a friend pointed out one of its tires was too flat. While I stood by unable to help, Erick and his friend effortlessly grabbed an air compressor and quickly rifled through numerous attachments to find the right pieces for the task, before pumping the tire up.
Whereas in years past I would have been ashamed of myself and apologetic for not being able to help with this task, this time I decided to give them permission to be THEM and me permission to be ME. In that moment I realized over the years there’s been countless times Erick told me something like, “I wish I was smart and liked to read like you and your sister.” Meanwhile, there’s been just as many times I effectively thought: I wish I were a handyman and good at “guy” stuff like Erick. It seems to me, for years part of me had been ashamed of ME, wishing I were Erick, while part of him was embarrassed of HIM, wishing he were me! I think the truth is we’re both perfect, the question is: Will we accept, love, and give ourselves permission to be who nature and nurture shaped us to be? (NOTE: Erick IS smart, and while he’s said things like I quote, I’m putting words in his mouth for the rest to make a point.)
Not only did the nurture of my dad, and mom, help form me to be a more head and words oriented person, it seems to me that’s also my wiring. I say that because conversations, teaching, reading, and writing all energize and invigorate me, while handyman type of stuff leaves me feeling depleted. The times when I’ve tried to be more of a “man” by doing more “guy stuff” have left me feeling frustrated, fragmented, and frozen. Conversely, though, giving myself permission to be ME (talkative, sensitive, goofy, thoughtful, creative, optimistic, enthusiastic, etc.) invigorates, inspires, and inflates my soul.
Helping my sister and bro-in-law move last weekend, as “guy” projects arose and I became a helpless bystander, my inner-critic reared it’s shaming finger to point out how unmanly I am … YET, for the first time I can recall in this type of situation, I laughed at my detractor, while noting in my head: I’m NOT good at that stuff, and that’s totally okay. While it’s Erick’s jam, I have my own jam. Then, because I am who I am 🙂 I wondered to myself: Is this part of what Jesus meant by being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect? I think it might be.
First, it’s important to note in the ancient Jewish understanding “perfect” wasn’t so much a state of doing and thinking everything right, as it was a way of being. Being prefect meant being whole, integrated, connected, and united. With that in mind, check out what comes before and after Jesus’ telling us to be “perfect”:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 5.43-6.3, NRSV)
Now, there are LOTS of valid and helpful ways to interpret this, that’s one of the beauties of scripture. As Augustine helpfully said: If your interpretation of a passage leads you to greater love of God and people (including yourself), you’ve done well, but if not, try again. So, a totally valid and really great reading of this, IMHO, could be: When we love our enemies we become perfect like God, because we’re reflecting the radical inclusive nature of Divine care and provision.
Another way to think of this, and tying it into my story, goes a little something like this … Enemies are typically people other than and different from us. My NOT being handy is other than and different from what culture tells us a man should be. Perfect love, i.e. a holistic way of being, embraces and cares for people exactly AS they are; normal, abnormal, weird, foreign, different, etc. The perfect way of living and being is to give yourself and others permission to be their uniquely beautiful and amazing Self.
What if a person wants to abuse people, steal from others, do lots of drugs, and so on? I’d say that’s not the real, whole, and True version of her/him. Those are lies put there by society and stories, similar to the image Jesus gives at the end of passage. After Jesus tells us to be perfect, He goes on to say do NOT be like people who do “good” just to be recognized and approved by others. In other words, don’t live to please others, live to please God. Don’t be who society tells you to be, be who God made you to be.
When I wish I was someone other than me, when I think I need to be more “manly”, and when I yearn for gifts and wirings that aren’t mine, I’m imperfect, I’m broken, I’m fragmented. Yet, when I give myself permission to be the uniquely amazing person God made me to be, I become perfect, alive, and whole. I expect the same is true for you too. Are there lies from culture and your story you believe about yourself? Are there heavenly truths about you you’re denying or suppressing? I hope my revelation and thoughts have been half as helpful to you as they have to me!
Grace and peace,