Her question, asked some 30 odd years ago, went unanswered. I wish I had told her then that I just didn't know the answer but I would try to figure it out. Of course it has taken me all this time to understand. I'm a very slow learner.
Tonight I went looking for her letter. When I finally began my first wave of cleaning out the loft room a couple of winters ago, I had carefully sorted all the letters I had saved in boxes; I have never been able to throw letters away.
The letters are all neatly filed in date order now, in sheet protectors in binders. I hadn't looked at them for a while, but I was struck by how a lifetime can be traced in letters. I also had a wave of nostalgia for a pleasure lost to the generation growing up now--that of opening a letter and sitting down to read something more carefully composed than a text message.
The letter I was looking for was from a girl named Patricia, whom I once taught in Sunday school. The class was for girls aged 12-14 and I was in my early twenties. We formed a bond of friendship that lasted. I still hear from some of them from time to time. One nearly broke my heart by telling me years later that the thing that kept her alive in a horrific situation of abuse, was knowing that I would miss her on Sunday if she ended her life. I'm glad that her life turned out to be happy, with a good man and a son she is a wonderful mother to, but I ache when I think of the thin thread of love that held her here. We have no idea what lies behind the carefree guise of childhood for so many children.
As I turned the pages, I found letters from other girls, and even one from Patricia, but it wasn't the one I was looking for. Which is odd. But it doesn't really matter, because I remember the question. Or maybe I imagined that she asked it. It was a good one though.
She asked how God could ask us to be perfect--and what did he mean by that?
Matthew 5:48Over the years I have pondered that imperative. What did he mean by that indeed? Surely only he is perfect. But would he tell us something so clearly if it wasn't possible? But how is it possible? I mean, I know who I am. I know how fallen and fallible I am--and how many colossal mistakes I am capable of. I look around and see an imperfect and sadly selfish and cruel world.
English Standard Version (ESV)
48(A) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect
Was he talking about some time in the future, when everything will finally be as he always intended it to be? Somehow that never really rang true for me. The statement seemed to either hold a tantalizing promise or be a cruel joke. The second choice was never really an option for me because of who I know him to be.
So as I pray about how to unpack what I have come to understand, tonight I start with the question. Patricia's question.