Weddings, funerals and other life celebrations can be a tense time for families – everyone wants everything perfect. That makes it especially tough on the minister.
After officiating at over 140 funerals, my husband is finally learning to relax. But those first few years in ministry – Oy vey! He was one stress puppy. Everything had to be perfect. He didn’t want to disappoint the family.
I felt sorry for the minister who recently conducted my uncle’s funeral. Ron wasn’t just another church member – he was the retired minister and Jim’s best friend. Jim had been the youth minister at the church where Uncle Ron served in rural Kansas as senior minister. Those two men who followed each other in ministry from Kansas to Australia and back again still talked to each other every day even after Ron retired and Jim took over as the senior minister. When I was with my family during the funeral preparations, a lump grew in my throat several times whenever I interacted with Jim. Over the years, he had acquired some of Ron’s mannerisms and voice inflections. It was like seeing my uncle reincarnated.
Since Ron was cremated, the funeral home was not involved in the details of the service and the responsibility of the service fell on Jim. Usually laid back, Jim’s mind went on overload as he thought about how Uncle Ron was so exacting about details. In spite of reassurances from our family, Jim insisted. “I want everything perfect.” Ron’s sisters murmured to me several times, “If God wanted us to be perfect, He would have made us that way.”
I shifted my feet. Jim wasn’t the only who didn’t want to flub up in front of 250 people. I may not have been vocalizing my desires, but I was silently fretting over my role as song leader. What if I lost my place? What if my voice squeaked? I tugged at the purple scarf draped over my gray blazer. Should I have worn a dress? A mistake or careless negligence would distract from the perfect celebration we wanted for this man we so craved to honor.
No matter how hard we try, we are imperfect people. The Christian radio station that broadcasts in Southern Kansas where my aunt and uncle live freely admitted this uncomfortable yet freeing truth in their tagline: “An imperfect people serving a perfect God.”
They got that right. Even if we do attain the level of perfection that satisfies us and the person we are trying to please, we haven’t begun to approach the perfection of God. He is so holy, so pure, we can never reach His level of perfection.
What is perfection anyway? A minister carrying out the wishes of the deceased without any deviation? A pianist playing all the correct notes with impeccable timing in a musical score?
As a music lover and ice skating aficionado, I’ve watched precision performances that while technically flawless, left me unimpressed. Other times, I’ve seen mediocre performances that moved me to tears. What’s the difference? Which one was “perfect?”
Everything going according to plan can be boring. It’s the mistakes and the human moments at weddings and funerals that we remember years later. During my own wedding, my feet hurt so bad, I slipped my shoes off in the middle of the ceremony, hiding them under my dress so no one would know. If my cousin hadn’t cried during her solo at my uncle’s funeral, I and her mom wouldn’t have had the chance to stand with her and encourage her to keep going. It was a precious moment few of us will soon forget.
Jesus addressed the issue of perfection in His Sermon on the Mount. That’s the essence of Matthew 5:48:
“Be perfect therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
Before you get hung up on that word perfect and tell me, “See? Even God expects me to be perfect!” read the rest of the chapter. Perfection is not attained by dutifully following all God-made laws or man-made regulations, protocols and expectations. What Jesus is saying is that you will be perfect when your attitude is engaged, when the inner man is connected with the Divine.
David in the Old Testament caught the importance of the inner man. God doesn’t want ritualistic sacrifices. He wants a willing and contrite heart (Psalm 5:16,17).
In our years of working with churches, my husband and I nod our heads with understanding. We get this one. We would much rather work with volunteers who are willing, humble and teachable rather than those who consider themselves “experts.” We’d rather work with people who have a passion for Jesus and a compassion for their fellow man than those who can play a perfect score or execute a flawless funeral dinner.
After all, our business is about people, not about programs.
Would you like to be perfect? First of all, stop trying. Your definition of perfection might be different than the person you want to please. As soon as you think you’ve done everything just right, someone will find fault.
Next, focus on the inner qualities of mercy, love, forgiveness, and service. Do the best with what you have at the moment. Seek to please God rather than man. Leave the results of your labor to God.
Then your Heavenly Father, who is the only one you have to worry about anyway, will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The memorial service? Jim and Ron’s two children did an amazing job of orchestrating a service that honored a well-loved man. Christ was honored. The gospel message was proclaimed. Tears were shed. Heartfelt pleas were made to the audience to claim the faith Ron embraced.
It was perfect.