Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:12-16
Many companies are using the phrase ‘pursuing perfection’ as their product by-line. From car manufacturers to prepared foods and electronics, producing the perfect consumable seems to be the goal. In their pursuit of perfection, we can be sure there are the occasional failures. Imperfect beings can’t produce a perfect anything. We can only get close.
Paul admits as much in our passage. He describes pushing forward in his pursuit and leaving behind him past efforts, ostensibly good or bad. This passage almost seems to have a sporting motif, using words like ‘press on’ or ‘straining forward.’ It brings images of track events where athletes are running hard for the tape, concentrating on the goal of finishing and hoping for victory. Mistakes made previously are forgotten in the pursuit of victory. Focusing on past events, good or bad, can distract them.
As Jesus followers, we experience our spiritual journey with successes and failures. We slip up and make mistakes. We also have bright shining moments when the journey moves forward by leaps and bounds. But, like the athletes running hard for the goal, we try to keep our eyes on the goal, keeping it in view, and leaving past experiences behind. But sometimes the past distracts us from our pursuit.
Some of us are perfectionists, never fully happy with what we’re doing. What we’re doing never feels or seems good enough. But, in our spiritual journey, despite our imperfection, we have the perfect one, Jesus, present with us. When the ‘track’ we’re running on seems to reach up and pull us down, we have someone to help us get up and begin running once again. In all the exuberance brought by great strides forward and the frustration by the stumbling, we continue to persevere.
We’ve all watched track events where the athletes participate in their event with little evident struggle. Technique on the track is only perfected in practice and failure. So, too, is our journey. As mentioned before, successes and failures come along. If distraction or failure comes along, perhaps reading what Teilhard de Chardin has written will help in understanding that we’re not alone, and the strong hands of Jesus will lift us up in our rough times.
Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
By Rich Obrecht