Thoughts on “Perfection-izm”

Published 7:00 am Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Adam lineage had been august and distinguished for many generations.

The family tree was replete with scholars, legislators, and business leaders. It was a family of “old money” and prestige. It was an implicit imprimatur upon the next generations to maintain, if not exceed, the successes of those who came before.

Such pressure was not unusual to the moneyed classes. They were quite used to their positions in society and their influences upon it. Their progeny were sent, at an early age, to the finer prep schools and universities. Leisure was more than rest, as sports competitions and adventure travel often filled the void. The spirit of completion, and the requisite successful end, was the anticipated, and expected, norm.

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Thomas Adams was the second son of John and Becky Adams. He was a likeable boy, but not given to extraordinary pursuits away from the classroom. Like his father, and his father before him, he was sent to an eastern boarding school to join his fellows of a similar financial stratum.

Well prepared, he excelled in his studies, with a perfect 4.0 average well into his senior year. Regularly lauded by his classmates and relatives, he readily acknowledged their praises, but felt an ever-increasing sense of dread for the potential of not achieving the very best. It became an obsession.

In the morning, at the last grading right before the end of the first term, Thomas received his report card, with a copy sent to his parents. Retreating to his room, he opened the missive and there, as if placed there by Satan himself, was a deeply flawed ‘B,’ next to the Advanced Calculus line.

Thomas was made immobile by the news. What would he tell his parents for his failure? Better yet, how was he going to deal with this extraordinary failure, as this had never happened before?

Later in the day, it became clear Thomas was not in his classes. They sent a boy to Thomas’ room, who returned and reported that Thomas was sitting on his bed, muttering to himself incoherently.

The school immediately had Thomas sent to the hospital, where they assessed there was an emotional collapse. They also determined his mutterings were a continuous repetition of, “I’m not perfect. I’m not perfect, I’m not perfect…”

Sadly, Thomas never returned to his lower school and quickly evidenced an inability to cope even with the regular stresses of life itself. Felling a complete failure, he ended his life in his early twenties.

While many of us may not be as driven as Thomas, or feel as much family pressure, we are all somewhat driven by perfection-izm’s.  Scripture call us to strive to be perfect, as God is perfect in all things, but yet to understand our humanness; our inability to be perfect.

However, in our strivings, we are told to go forward in our pursuits, as we are directed to do by God. What Thomas never understood was his relationship with God, and what God’s expectations were of him, as he felt only the expectations of his earthly family. It is a lesson for all of humankind.

As Thomas, we too may be disturbed with what we perceive as failures in our lives.

If we have given all that we possess, in mind, body and soul, then we have provided all of what God calls us to give.

As true Christians, we know we shall receive solace, by His grace, and we shall receive perfection some glorious day.

By Fr. Jonathan J. Filkins