Proverbs 31: 10-31 and Colossians 3: 12-17
On Wednesday, I went to CVS to purchase Mother’s Day cards. I joined a young man who was already in the card section, picking up one then putting down another and then repeating this process with a sigh. After I chose cards for the mother-figures in my life – I started the process all over again to find grandmother cards from Owen. While I was making choices, along came one man and then another who quickly found what the one they wanted and walked away. The young man was still there, rifling his way through the regular and oversized, glittery and flat, jewelry appointed and otherwise bedazzling cards in search of just the right one. I turned to him and made some comment about those two men who came in and conquered the Mother’s Day card section as expediently as if they were picking out a package of copier paper. He said that he couldn’t find ones with the right words. I think a lot of us would say that we understand.
Think of the range of Mother’s Day cards. Mother’s Day cards can be awfully, well, idealized, making it hard to find just the right one when we’re not used to such an idealized life with the mother-figures in our life.
Scriptures like Proverbs 31 don’t help matters. With its incredibly descriptive portrayal of the virtuous woman, we are left to wonder how anyone could ever measure up. A woman of worth sure can do everything! With her, you would be assured a taste of the good life. Wanted: Someone who seeks wool and flax and turns them into fine clothing, gleans food for her family and cooks it just right, plants a field and harvests its crops, works morning, noon, and night (no kidding) and still looks after her household. When King Lemuel’s mother provided “The Future Wife for My Son” ad for The Hebrew Times, she must’ve been trying to set the bar so high that her son would never find someone the woman of her dreams!Or was the King’s mother projecting onto her future daughter-in-law the qualities she hoped her son would see in her? I wonder if we can acknowledge that sometimes our idealized views of others are actually our idealized view of ourselves!
Many of us are in a constant struggle to keep up with the mounting demands and expectations that are set upon us — or that we set upon ourselves. These demands often reflect what is perceived as the ideal capabilities for the role we have in their life. We juggle our priorities and the demands on our time, the hopes and dreams we have for ourselves and the hopes and dreams others have held for us along the way, doing everything we can think to do to measure up to this idealized view of who we can never be. This tension between the ideal and the very real is especially pronounced in cities like Washington and New York, London and Johannesburg where the best and the brightest gather to do high profile work that might influence the quality of life around the world.
Many of us, then, find ourselves working awfully hard to some day meet that image others or we have wittingly or unwittingly set. Even the poets tell us, “Ah, but a woman’s reach should exceed her grasp or what is a heaven for?” (I’m sure that Browning won’t mind the slight edit in honor of Mother’s Day.) We do everything in our power, and sometimes things that are beyond reasonableness, unconsciously rationalizing that the more we try, the likelier it will be that we might to guarantee a place in someone’s heart – maybe even God’s. This way of thinking is tantamount to works righteousness that a protestant would affirm is not God’s rule.
I suppose that there’s a reason why we idealize the people we love. It’s easier to idealize imperfection than accept the truth of someone’s shortcomings against an awfully difficult set of goals we hoped that they would achieve. It’s easier to idealize imperfections than see and address them in ourselves. It’s easier to idealize imperfections than examine where we fall short of the glory of God and set ourselves on a course to measure up to that perfect person we wonder if God isn’t sorry we didn’t turn out to be.
At some point, life becomes easier when we acknowledge that there is only one Perfection. Once we accept the truth that the ideal is not real – perfection is not any more possible than it is to do everything trying to measure up – we can more faithfully stay the course on our endeavor for “ideal” to be sought, especially in our Christian lives. Life becomes easier when we accept that that one perfection is found in the one sent to embody the ideal among us and show us the pathway for our very real, imperfect selves to find eternal glory with him and all of the rest of the very real men, women and children in this very idealized world.
Our reading from the Letter to the Colossians reminds of our need to let it all go. As God has forgiven the very things that make us real, so are we to forgive others for the ways that they are less than ideal. As children of God, be compassionate and kind, humble, meek and patient. Be grateful, lift up the name of Jesus, apply wisdom, personify joy…
So, all of us trying to measure up to the ideal image of mom or dad? Give it up. And all of us trying to be the perfect aunt or uncle? It’s not going to happen. Work will never be perfect. Your marriage will never be perfect. Your nephew is not ideal embodied and neither is your best friend. Just do your best to love them anyway, and the love that binds the world through our God who is love can affect for us all a world of hope in our very real world in need of hope today.
Thanks be to God.