Not long before Christmas, a close friend sent me a column by Patricia Holbrook. Although I wasn’t familiar with the author, the topic caught my attention and her fine writing kept it. She described herself as a recovering perfectionist, a label my pal understands quite well.
In the sixth grade he wrote “Strive for Perfection” on an index card and placed it on his mirror. That short phrase was a guiding principle during childhood and has remained so in the decades since. As he nears the three score and ten mark his accomplishments are many. Countless lives have been enriched through his efforts and he’s still going strong.
Like Ms. Holbrook, however, and the example she used of John Quincy Adams, he has increasingly realized that attaining perfection is unrealistic. While doing our best is a wonderful quality, seeking perfection can be frustrating. Even if our bus stops in Nirvana, as in the poem by Charles Bukowski, our lovely visit in the comforting diner will assuredly be brief. Before we have a second cup of coffee, the driver is likely to announce it’s time to leave.
I’m not sure what prompted my friend to send me the article. Perhaps he thought it would provide inspiration for a column. That’s been a struggle for a while now and troubles me more than it should. During the first four years of writing Joiner’s Corner, I stayed ten columns ahead and had a long list of potential topics. As I approach the five-year mark, however, I’m down to a single spare musing and unsure what lies ahead.
Depleted inventory is a bit unsettling for someone behind on a plan he once thought essential. So maybe that’s why I received the column and appreciated the lady’s godly perspective. My friend knows that others, including myself, sometimes become frenzied in our quests for perfection.
It might be helpful to remind ourselves there’s only been one perfect man, unless we give credence to some unproven claims. One such story I recall hearing is about a preacher who posed a rhetorical question to his congregation. He asked, “Have any of you ever known a perfect man?”
As people smiled and nodded their heads sidewards, an older fellow in the back stood up. “I have,” said the gray-haired gentleman with conviction. “My wife’s first husband.”
A second claim to perfection is courtesy of a Mac Davis song. The late Stan Gambrell, Vienna’s City Manager, made almost daily trips to Bank of Dooly where I worked. We’d often chat briefly, sometimes on business matters but mostly just exchanging friendly banter as was once common in rural banks. He walked into my office one day singing a tune I’d never heard and thought he had composed.
“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror because I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me. I must be a hell of a man. Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best that I can.”
Stan had a gift for coming up with memorable phrases and he wrote several songs that could have been hits. The chorus he was singing that day, while sporting a familiar sly smile, sounded exactly like something he would have penned.
Assuming we discount those two claims of perfection, that leaves only one example for guidance toward a perfect life. Jesus made it clear that effort is important. The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25: 14-30 conveys a great lesson on doing the best with what we have, regardless of how big or small our resources may be.
The same holds true for every aspect of life. The Widow’s Mite, Luke 21: 1-4, is where Jesus points to a lady who had nothing to spare yet gave all she had. When we give only what we won’t miss, we fall short of the mark.
Perfection, however, is an elusive goal, whether it pertains to work, family, hobbies, or spiritual matters. It’s good to remember what Jesus said in John 10: 10 – “I have come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” Sometimes when I focus too much on my shortcomings, I like to picture Jesus saying that just to me. Faith, despite our imperfections, offers us the abundant life. It’s not a life without challenges, but when it’s over we’ll no longer be in search of perfection. Those who have claimed it, will by the grace of God have found it.