Updated: May 17, 2020
I am a perfectionist. Let me be clear, that does not mean that I do things perfectly. What it does mean is that I have very high standards for myself and I’m highly critical of myself. It means that I often feel shame for not being perfect which basically means I feel shame for being human. It means that I sometimes let the fear of not being perfect stop me from finishing something or even starting it.
Exhibit A: I started working on a nightstand for my son’s room a year ago I had a vision of finding an old nightstand and refinishing it to match the grey wood of his new bedframe. Low and behold, within a couple days, I walked out of my home to find an old nightstand sitting on my neighbor friend's front porch, ready to be given away or thrown out. It felt like fate. I ran to the store to get all the supplies I would need, borrowed an electric sander, and got to work.
As these types of projects tend to go, it ended up being more work than I expected. Once I finally got through the two coats of paint, I realized that the electric sander couldn’t quite fit into all the little corners and edges. That meant that I would have to grab some sand paper and start chipping away at the paint by hand. That was tedious and painful work. I spent hours working on all those edges and didn’t feel like I had made much progress. So I stopped, and the nightstand sat in the corner of my dining room, half finished, for a year.
While I attributed the long break to a lack of free time and lack of desire to make my fingertips bleed, I realized that there was more to it. I was frozen by my feelings of inadequacy. I had this vision of something in my mind, but as I hit roadblocks, that vision was becoming harder and harder to reach. And I wasn't sure it was worth finishing if I wasn't going to be happy with the end result. So I made excuses and let time pass, all the while feeling like more and more of a failure as the unfinished nightstand taunted me from the corner.
As the one year mark began to approach, I found a new resolve to complete this project. I found a tool that would help to strip more of the paint from the edges, but I still couldn’t get it all. I was discouraged and once again felt like giving up, but ultimately, I got to a point where the desire to finish became greater than the desire for it to be perfect. I realized that good enough was just going to have to be good enough. So with the pink paint remaining in the edges, I began to brush the grey stain onto the nightstand.
As I worked out on the back patio, my kids stood in the house at the sliding glass door and shouted encouragement to me. “Wow! Look what Mommy’s doing!” “I like the way you’re painting that!” “I’m so excited for my new nightstand!” My kids didn’t see the imperfections. They saw a beautiful masterpiece.
In that moment, I wished that I could see the world through my kids’ eyes more often. They see the beauty in things that I see as deficient. They see the value in creating even if they don’t stay inside the lines. They recognize that things don’t have to be perfect to be good.
I’ve never been satisfied with good enough. In fact, good enough almost seems like a curse word to me. Good enough seems like failure.
I was a straight A student all the way through college. When I was in high school, my goal was to graduate number one in my class. I took all honors and AP classes. I even voluntarily took some classes that I hated just because they would help my weighted GPA. I didn’t get enough sleep because of my intense homework load. And I missed out on activities that I would have enjoyed. I did all of this in order to achieve the perfect GPA and prove that I was the best. Then, somehow after all this work, I ended up graduating number two in my class. That might sound like a really great accomplishment, but I was crushed. Number two wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t perfect, and I had been striving for perfection.
This is just one example of the many ways that I have stolen my own joy through the years. I have missed out on beauty and goodness because I have been too concerned with the imperfections. I have dwelt on the ways that I could have done better. I have beat myself up for falling short. I haven’t let good be good enough for me.
I am so grateful that God’s expectations for me are not as high as my expectations for myself. God doesn’t expect me to be perfect, but he accepts me and loves me and delights in me just as I am.
I am reminded of the story of creation and how each time God created something new, he said, “It is good.” He delighted in what he had done. When it came to humanity, God said, “It is very good.” It’s interesting to consider what happened with the humans God created shortly after he called them very good. I believe that God knew they were going to betray him. He knew that they were not perfect. He knew that they would make choices that would damage the relationship he had with them as well the splendor of the world he had created. And yet, he called them good. He chose to see their beauty.
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve didn’t believe that good was good enough. They looked around at the incredible, abundant life that they had, and they chose to see lack. They found a flaw in what God called good. They wanted more. And by failing to see the goodness in what they had, they lost it all.
Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and place for evaluation, for constructive criticism, and for improvement. But when the pursuit of perfection begins to steal our joy or stand in the way of gratitude or overshadow the beauty of what is, then that pursuit becomes an idol. That’s when we need to recognize that good is better than perfect.
I’m choosing to look at the nightstand and say, “It is good.” I’m choosing to look at my home and say, “It is good.” I’m choosing to look at myself in the mirror and say, “It is good.” I’m choosing to look at my life and say, “It is good.”
None of it is perfect. There is room for growth. But I’m choosing to see the goodness and to be grateful for the beauty in the imperfections.
Is there an area of your life where the pursuit of perfection or the desire for more has clouded your ability to see what is good? Take some time today to declare, “It is good.”