How do you read this verse from Matthew? What does it truly mean? I think this verse is either often ignored completely or taken so literally that it causes people to forget that life can be fun and enjoyable.
The first tendency is to completely ignore it. I tend to see this attitude especially with teens. It is also the typically the mainstream attitude. Most people think that if they simply don't sin and mainly stay away from mortal sin they are good to go. If I obey the 10 commandments and am a nice person then I'm fine and don't have anything to worry about right? Actually not sinning is the absolute bare minimum we as Christians are called to! We aren't simply called to just not sin we are called to virtue! We are called to holiness! Overcoming mortal sin is actually the easier of these two steps. Once we have control of the more serious sins in our life we actually now have to work at being virtuous and not just choosing good things but choosing the greatest goods. I know I'm not there yet. I'm trying but for example what is a better choice, reading a good spiritual book or watching a crappy movie? Most of us probably choose the movie. While watching the movie may not in itself be sinful, choosing the reading is the GREATER good (especially when I haven’t taken any time our for prayer that day yet). We cannot ignore this verse. Yes we may not ever truly achieve perfection in this life but we must strive for it, and perfection is not attained simply by not sinning but by striving for virtue and holiness.
The second tendency I notice is to interpret this verse in a way that leads to scrupulosity. We become so caught up in trying to be Holy that we forget to try and be human. This tendency seems to cause us to think everything is a sin and can cause us to be judgmental of others. This can also lead to pride and self-righteousness. This is not healthy. I refer to people in this category as PODs (Pious and Overly Devotional). I tend to see this especially among young people in the early stages of conversion who in an attempt to not fall back into old habits decide that every activity that doesn’t mention Jesus’ name is sinful.
So how do we reconcile these two views? How can we live this verse? I think the key is in living a BALANCED life. We have to make time not only for prayer and devotion but for our families, exercise, friendship, and reading (this includes academic, spiritual and leisurely). Being scrupulous is just as bad as just scrapping by through life doing the bare minimum to avoid sin. We have to live lives that are radically other. This is going to involve living lives that seek virtue and holiness while at the same time soak in the joys and pleasures of this world in a way that we don't overindulge and avoid sinful actions. For example G.K. Chesterton said one of the greatest joys of this life was a cigar with a pint of beer and good conversation (I’m paraphrasing here but its pretty darn close to what he said). This is the balance I attempt to strike. I don't think I've quite fully figured it out but with each passing day, month, and year hopefully I'm getting a little bit closer. What are your thoughts on this?