I’m a perfectionist from way back. Ever since my school days, I’ve been the guy who hates to miss a point on a test, and since as far back as I can remember, there has been a voice in the corner of my head suggesting that there is some standard of perfection that everyone and everything should match up to (or die trying).
I have great visions in my head for how social functions and professional efforts will play out. I have grand plans for every week of my life, and then life actually happens and reminds me that nothing will ever be perfect. And it’s so easy to get upset.
I can get upset when wrong turns throw a car trip off schedule. I can get upset when long lines at the grocery store interfere with my perfect errand-running agenda, and I can get upset when my all of my workouts still don’t give me a perfect body that looks exactly like the perfect people on the front of Men’s’ Fitness and People and a million other magazines that sell us an airbrushed version of reality. I can get upset when I don’t open my mouth when I have something perfect to say, and I can get upset when I nervously say too much when silence would have been perfect. I want to cry when some sickness or financial problem comes crashing down on my wife and I and forces us to retool and regroup - again and again – because our efforts seem powerless against life's imperfections.
If I’m being honest here, I’d have to say that I also get upset with God sometimes. Why would a perfect God let everything get so messed up? Why would life be so unpredictably (or maybe predictably) difficult? Why did He create me and you only to throw us to the lions of our own moral, physical, and emotional failings? Why are family relationships often difficult instead of always joyful? Why can marriage be so tough at times? Why do we always fall short of our best visions for ourselves? Why can’t we ever reach PERFECT?
The answer to the above question is simpler than I once thought it was: we can't reach perfect because life isn’t perfect, and neither is anyone living it. That’s what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, and I think that realization is a true starting point for growth and increased peace.
A few months ago, I wrote a series of blog posts on my author website (www.michaelpriebewriter.com) about my experiences with prescription-drug withdrawal. If you read any of those posts, you’ll recall how I was prescribed antianxiety medications in college for panic attacks and subsequently accepted those medications as a part of my life for the next decade and a half. Then I stopped taking them, and physical and emotional bedlam ensued . . . but so did a certain spiritual awakening.
I titled that series of blog posts More Than a Glimpse of Hell, and I went with that title for two reasons.
Reason One: The challenging drug withdrawal gave me more than just a glimpse of hell; it actually showed me the whole thing and then some.
And Reason Two: It wasn’t just a view of hell that the experience showed me. It was also a view of beauty. That experience gave me pain, but it also peeled back the layers of everyday life a bit so that I could see the beautiful spiritual reality that is all around us. I saw how all of these things we strive for every day—the career success and the big house and the beach body and the perfect photos for Facebook or Instagram—are really so unimportant in the eternal scheme of things. I saw the need, more starkly than ever before, for redemption and a connection to something eternal. I saw how none of us is winning at the game of life on our own. I was reminded of how we all need a lifeline from above, and I was reminded of how we all already have that lifeline sitting within our reach.
Life isn't perfect, but grace and divine acceptance are.
One of the strangest experiences I walked through during withdrawal was that of having a sudden eye turned toward imperfections in a major way. Maybe I’ve always been a little hyperaware of the imperfections in myself and society at large, but this was something else. Suddenly I noticed every tiny flaw in myself and those around me, and I also began to see how flawed the trajectory of life on this earth was in general.
We get older, sicker, more fatigued, and eventually we pass away. How imperfect is that? If taken at face value, our life cycle is really imperfect, really depressing, but if taken as a reminder that eternity is necessary, then that "imperfection" is a beautiful irony. The pain is temporary, the glory is forever.
The realization of all that imperfection in the world can actually be a breakthrough for us. The acceptance of imperfection can be liberating. We no longer have to strive to be something we can't. We no longer have to try to get 100 percent on life's tests each day. It’s okay to just relax and be happy. Be productive and be improving, yes, but remember to rest and enjoy where we are at now as well.
God isn’t asking us to be perfect or judging us because we aren’t. Life isn’t perfect, and neither is anyone living it. And that’s totally okay.
Jesus came to Earth in human form to walk among imperfect human beings, and he knows exactly how flawed everyone is and accepts us anyway. Jesus said: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
In other words, “If you’re imperfect, you’re right up God’s alley, so accept yourself and stop beating yourself up.”
If you were thinking of trying to get to PERFECT this week, stop! I’m here to gently tell you that it’s not going to happen, and that’s okay. Beauty doesn’t depend on perfect and neither does happiness. We all have flaws, but those just make us genuine. Life always falls a little short of our best plans and visions for it, but that just makes us realize that we have to stop striving so maniacally. Have visions for your future, yes, but accept that life will often happen independent of your visions for it. Be happy, be flexible, be human.
For a while there I saw flaws everywhere, but now I try to see beauty everywhere, too. The other night I was watching a Netflix documentary called A New High that filmed a Christian recovery group that gives former addicts hope by training them to climb Mt. Rainier. This group (or rather the individual who runs the group) works tirelessly to reach out to former alcoholics and crack addicts and heroin users. These people have some truly bone-chilling stories behind their addictions. They lost spouses and children and they were abused and neglected. They feel worthless, but then this group gives them hope and a goal.
I stayed up until about 2:30 in the morning watching that documentary, and I'll admit that I cried to see all of the pain and heartbreak in all of those imperfect lives. But I also cried to see how beautiful it is when people lift other people up. I cried to watch people accept God's acceptance of them even though they have stumbled through a life of flaws and failings.
We all stumble, and we all need to lift each other up and recognize our shared imperfections and our shared need for hope and love. We all have beauty just beneath our imperfect surfaces . . . we just need compassionate others to dust it off and shine it up for us.
So, there will be setbacks and flaws in your life this week. I won’t tell you otherwise. But there will be beauty, too, so make sure to recognize every good thing about your marriage, your job, your spiritual life, and everything else. And stop running around in so many circles and beating yourself up, because you don’t need to be perfect. God doesn’t demand it, so stop demanding it from yourself and the people around you. If we can do that, chances are we'll all start enjoying this "imperfect" existence a whole lot more than we sometimes do.
MICHAEL PRIEBE is the author of THE LOVELY GRIND: SPIRITUAL INSPIRATION FOR WORKDAYS (90 Devotions for Stress Relief & Personal Growth). The book released June 6th and is now available in both print and Kindle versions. Get the book here, and sign-up for The Lovely Grind's mailing list to receive all of Michael's blog posts and better-living ideas.