Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Problem with Perfection

Here’s the thing about being perfect. As the Patriots so painfully and poignantly illustrated last night against the Giants, there’s only one way to go: down. And down they went. At game time, I still didn’t know who I would be rooting for. (After all, I am a diehard Cowboy fan!) I initially thought I might be irresistibly pulled toward the prospect of a perfect season for the Patriots, with its record-breaking, earth-shattering, momentous statistical relevance occurring in my lifetime, on my watch.

But as I began watching the game, to my surprise, I found myself rooting for the Giants. I think it is probably my love for underdogs, especially triumphant ones. And like most other people watching, I thought that the two last drives resulting in the final two touchdowns of the game were amazing. A true fight to the finish, with guns blasting and flags flying, each play executed with heart and gusto. It was incredible. Tom Brady's stunningly perfect touchdown pass in the final 2+ minutes of the game --perfectly executed, the Giant defense missed it completely and that had me convinced the Patriots were going to win it. But then, there also is Eli Manning's miracle play which convinced me otherwise. The New York Giants were the better team tonight.

And so the Patriots reminded me about an important, but often overlooked point, that there is potential for positive outcomes in imperfection. Unlike in perfection, in imperfection, it is possible to change toward success. There is a problem with pursuing perfection: it's a vain and futile pursuit. And nearly any psychologist will inform you that perfectionism is a neurosis. Plus, it is a heavy burden to bear.

As any football fan knows, a few losses in a season are no big deal. Many teams make it into the playoffs with 10-6 records (others have made it with worse records). But maintaining an undefeated season is wearying The Patriots, rather than just expecting to do well, got caught up in this irresistible expectation that they must never lose. And then when the play-offs began, losing felt like it cost too much.

Obviously, they did lose, and they lost at the 'wrong' time. The numbers won't matter to the pundits, but the Patriots were not radically outplayed by a better team. They just lost, looking mediocre; worn out, perhaps, from the pressure of being perfect. Who wants to carry that mantle around anyway, other than Mercury Morris? The pass rush of the Giants was the best the Patriots have seen all year, I think; they were certainly outplayed on the line of scrimmage on many downs.

So my hat is off to the Giants. I think the Manning brothers are class acts; Eli's a great kid. The Giants played with fire in their bellies. I appreciate that.

Let me offer one last spiritual observation about the Patriots loss. I think with all of us there’s a certain amount of identification with what happened to them. Because we understand what it’s like to fall a little short of a standard or goal. All of us know that feeling. We’ve all been there, in various circumstances of life.

We also should understand this from a spiritual perspective. “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23) “All” is an inclusive, encompassing word; all of anything signifies that no exceptions exist. “Sinned” literally means “missed the target,” having failed to live up to God’s divine standard of what He wanted us to be. And missing the target means separation from God—spiritual death. (See Isa. 59:1-2; Rom. 6:23) “For there is no difference” means there is no distinction between people in this regard—Jew and Gentile, bondservant and free, male and female, black or white and every shade in between, we are all in the same boat as sinners, condemned.

So we know we’ve fallen short. What now? “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were preciously committed.” (Rom. 3:22-25)

God has provided the means of our justification, of making right our falling short. By setting forth His Son, God made our redemption possible—by His grace, through our faith (Eph. 2:89). Through Christ, God has passed over the sins of those who have become subjects of His grace.

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4; see also Gal. 3:26-28) When we are baptized into Jesus Christ, we gain new life. Our sins are washed away by His blood (Mt. 26:28; Acts 22:16; Eph. 1:7) and thus forgiven. (Acts 2:38) Therefore, by the grace and mercy of God, our falling short is mended. In Christ, we are once again on target.

Robert Prater

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