Dear Beloved Church,
This month, I’ve been thinking about perfectionism. I love to do everything right, just right. I like to plan for the contingencies, think out all the possibilities, have the solutions before the problems arise. And if I don’t, I love to blame myself.
The big day of our celebration, our 175th Anniversary, has been in the planning phase for years—and it went so well! Still, at the end of the service, when the bishop turned to me and said, “What a great service!” I made a face, thinking that everyone else did amazingly well. I mentioned how frustrated I was with my own fumbling through the announcements, annoyed at the things I hadn’t thought through. I was just grateful for the way others involved had patience with me. Bishop Barbins said, “Oh, those little things have to happen so we are reminded that we aren’t God.”
I once heard that our Amish siblings, who have been quilting by hand their whole lives, deliberately put one or two mismatched stitches into their quilts as a reminder that only God is perfect. We are allowed to be human, in fact we are expected to be.
This is not to say that we should neglect to plan or that we shouldn’t put our whole effort into whatever God has called us to, but we are to give ourselves and others the grace of knowing that we can’t know everything. Things will go wrong, we will fail to plan for everything, our best efforts will not meet other people’s expectations, and we will disagree and hurt each other’s feelings. That is all a part of the messy business of being human.
Perfectionism is often a sign that we don’t trust that God will love us no matter what. It is a need to do it “right” to earn our worth. God doesn’t need that of us. God doesn’t want that of us. God loves us in all of our imperfections. God has already forgotten our mistakes before the blush has faded from our cheeks. In God’s gaze, we are the beloved creation, even as the Holy Spirit is at work in us, drawing us closer to God and to our neighbor.
The apostle Paul struggled with perfectionism and how he appeared to human eyes. He experienced the pride of high achievement and the humiliation of imprisonment and illness. He received a message from the Lord, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). God does not expect perfection from us. God expects us to be human and to love each other in the midst of that humanity.