It was a long day full of aggravations, worries and loneliness. Actually, rather a typical day. Maybe a little better as it was heavier on aggravation than on worry. In any case, I'm tired, discouraged, and cynical. I have that feeling I get- like a wrinkle in my sock or a smudge on my glasses- of something being annoyingly "off" in my life.
I'm a perfectionist. No secret there. As a child, I did about five or six hours of homework a night unless there was a quiz or test scheduled for the following day. On those days I did more homework. Following my own rules, I studied two hours for a quiz and five hours for a test. If I had a chapter to read in a book, I read it ten times marking off the numbers on a sheet of paper. A 100% was a good grade. A 95% felt like a C and I considered anything less a failure. I was the kid who raised her hand and asked how long the paper could be. "It has to be at least five pages," might be the answer. "OK," I'd respond, "but how long can it be? How much is too long?"
One of my elementary school teachers assigned me "Christianity" as a paper topic, which given my perfectionism and status as a minister's child was a singularly stupid and cruel act. She had to have known just how much material I had available to me and that I would be compelled to use it. She had to have known that there was no way I could have approached that topic with anything less than compulsive, unforgiving perfectionism.
Of course I asked Dad for help. I remember standing in his office as he pointed at the walls of shelves all of them filled with books about Christianity. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," he told me. I was dismayed and overwhelmed. But Dad smiled and waved the books aside.
"Someone once asked an astronomer to sum up his work in one sentence," my father told me. "And the astronomer answered, 'Twinkle, twinkle, litte star. How I wonder what you are?'"
He let that sink in and then he said, "And someone once asked a great theologian to sum of his faith in one sentence." I waited to hear what the great theologian had said. "Jesus loves me, this I know," said Dad simply, "for the Bible tells me so."
So that was it. That was Christianity. And that was Love. That was my father's love for me and mine for him. It was the Love that was mine as a child of Creation and the love I would be expected to give as one of its trusted stewards.
Funny, isn't it, how often we forget that one simple commandment, that one simple truth. We push each other through a lot of hoops. We make each other dance and bow and scrape. We fall over each other in our desire to prove ourselves, to prove our worth, to earn the A. Ask me now what I think about Jesus and the Bible and I'll tell you all about archaeology, biblical scholarship and comparative religious studies. I'll talk about metanarratives and postmodernism long after you've lost interest. But push me on this point: "Do you think Jesus would love you or me?" and my honest answer would be "Yes. I believe the Bible tells us so."
I'll never be "just right". It isn't in my nature to be satisfied. I often mistake excellence for Righteousness and respect for Love. I am often very angry with myself. I struggle with feelings of worthlessness and failure. I fear that I've let down those who told me that one day I would be "Somebody." I want to be a giant, a scholar, a sage, and a beauty and prove myself worthy of approval. There are days that fill me with rage and disappointment at what has been an inconsequential life of modest achievement. There are days when I am filled with guilt for my mistakes. I can be petty and narrow, insensitive and self-centered. I am arrogant, ego-driven and even cruel. At my best, I'm never as good as I hoped. I grasp and fall and sit there on the ground sulking. There are days when I don't want to love anybody and I do not want to accept anybody's love.
But Love is more powerful than I am. A small voice in my head reminds me with persistent gentleness to forgive myself for my human weaknesses, for my errors, for my debts and for my trespasses and to forgive others for theirs. Perfect love is not a reward for perfect behavior, for perfect results, or even for perfect intentions. Love is freely given. If the Bible tells us anything about Jesus, it is that he loved freely and unreservedly. If such a thing is possible, even if such a thing is imaginable, then I can keep going.