“No good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art.” – John Ruskin
Oh, there are so many things I want to tell you about this past holiday weekend!
We had such a great time and great food with family and friends, running in sprinklers and s’mores and watching fireworks in a big field and sparklers on the driveway.
But I have to tell you the real story: afterward I mentally berated myself for not being the gracious host I wanted to be.
Have you ever been there, realizing there are simply far too many things you’re not good at, and this is just more proof, more ironic proof, of just how far from perfect you really are even in this tendency toward raving perfectionism?
Isn’t it, in the end, just another layer of my old stubborn pride?
And yet somehow, despite knowing my quiet temperament and embracing so many of my limitations, I still believe God holds me to a standard of perfection, even when the very nature of grace is to accept imperfections.
What on God’s great earth is that about?
It’s as though I believe Jesus came judging people and assuring everyone that he didn’t come to bring life, but to bolster our self-righteous efforts to appear wonderful and completely capable without him. Why do I continually try to remake him in my own broken image?
In fact, the Son of God didn’t come to condemn anyone but to save us:
“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” John 12:47
“You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.” John 8:15
He came that I would have life and have it abundantly. And yet I so easily flick it away and become someone who believes condemning myself is the better, the good and important work.
And isn’t this why I so often do it to others?
I’m so quick to find fault—it’s a great skill to have as an editor, no doubt. But I can become one of those who dedicates himself to opposing everything and everyone who is less-than (especially myself), and believing we need to “fight for the right” and ignore the dissent.
And it’s that mindset that cripples me in my daily life and my creative work, where my definition of imperfection becomes so outwardly focused and stretches like a holiday waistline to include anything and anyone who is simply different than me.
Family members with different personalities.
Friends with different needs and beliefs.
Neighbors with different ideas of decency and proper attire. (photo withheld)
Sure, I’m aware it’s not just me. This is an age-old difficulty and I’m not going to solve it. Issue-debaters don’t even talk about the same things. The usual frustrations surface and the logical question for both sides becomes, “When will you listen to me?”
In fact, writing realistic dialogue requires first understanding that people don’t have conversations that follow a logical flow. They talk over, under and around each other. Directness is rare and non sequiturs are common. If you’d like to write authentically, don’t have characters simply talk to each other, have them communicate with their unrealistic idea of the other person. And don’t assume they’re even thinking about someone besides themselves. Most speech is a failure to speak.
But can’t we hope for more? Doesn’t anyone want to really understand anyone anymore?
Or is there too much hurt in the way of our words?
Successful counselor-author couple and forever friends of mine, Milan and Kay Yerkovich, teach that if you weren’t taught to receive love well you’ll probably have to work at it as an adult. Everyone needs to feel loved by having our ideas and feelings validated. But that means we have to express them in a healthy, clear and nonthreatening way (their book How We Love shows spouses how to help each other communicate and bond well).
Yet first, we need to help ourselves get what we need by expressing ourselves, even if imperfectly.
Why not love ourselves by learning to receive love? Why don’t we seek unity in our common imperfections and heal our divisions of pride?
I’d like to confess to you my feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. For I believe accepting these imperfections will help me come to accept others who often feel the same, and in time, learn to love them better.
“Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life… Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect…there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty. No human face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry…to banish imperfection is to destroy expression…to paralyze vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.” – John Ruskin