Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Idolatry of Perfect

When I was a nanny, I listened to a lot of Laurie Berkner, a fantastic children's song writer and singer. There is a song called "I'm Not Perfect" that I would sing along with the five year old, and the first stanza goes:

I'm not perfect, no I'm not
I'm not perfect
But I've got what I've got
I do my very best, I do my very best
I do my very best each day
But I'm not perfect
And I hope you like me that way.

Growing up, I really struggled with my imperfections: my stutter, my glasses, my introvert self that is shy of too much attention. As a result, I grew up feeling inadequate. I hid my imperfections and my struggles, thinking that if people knew, they wouldn't like me. I dreaded going to school - grade school is a land of active and passive bullies. Boys who teased the stutterer, girls who wouldn't want to be paired with you. Talking in class was my worst nightmare - the more pressure I felt, the worse I stuttered. I only had one teacher who would let me do my presentations in front of her, alone, and another teacher who encouraged me in my writing, never forcing me to read my work aloud. She did, though, and I would blush with pleasure.

I am lucky to have two wonderful parents who love me. Growing up, though, I was especially close to my father. My Dad was (is!) my #1 supporter - he is a real friend to me (I only had a few), he praises my good qualities, he always tells me the truth, he always listens.

He continually tells me to banish those feelings of inadequacy, and that the Devil is speaking in my ear when I think I am not worth it. He reminds me of my self-worth, that I am loved, that God made me exactly who I am for a reason and to want to be someone - or something else - is a slap in God's face. It is up to me (Dad says) to discover and spread God's love, and to use the talents God has given me for his greater glory, rather than focusing on the pebbles of my own smallishness.

I've grown so much since the days I stuttered every sentence, and cried after school, and retreated even more into myself because I was imperfect. And I am still imperfect, but those imperfections have led to virtues - I've learned to stick up for myself and others; I've learned to laugh at myself; I've learned that people who hurt others are hiding their own hurt; I've learned to be brave; I've learned that crying isn't weak; I've learned that even when I don't feel lovable, I am loved - and to say otherwise is a slap in God's face. I stare at a crucifix when I feel this way, and pray, and ask God to forgive me. Christ suffered death for me, and would suffer it again, just for me.

I still struggle with this today. I fixed cornbread two weeks ago and it turned out horribly - like freeze-dried astronaut food. Will came into the kitchen and tried it.

"No! It's horrible!" I protested.
"Yes," he laughed. "It really is!"
We laughed about it and then I said, "Ug, I'm a horrible wife."
"Why would you say that? Who says that?"
"Because I am! I can't even make corn bread."
"Is being a good wife contingent on making corn bread?"
"I'm just trying to make you happy!"
"You do! I am happy! You make me happy!"

The problem is always perception. We think we know what people want -- and if we give them what they want, maybe they'll hire us or be friends with us or they'll date us or even marry us. But it does not work that way. Sure, perhaps initially. But will it last? Is that perception reality?

For example, Will didn't even ask me to make corn bread. I made it because I know he likes it. Then I messed up - he didn't care. I cared. It felt like the oven had a vendetta against me. Or maybe I made a mistake mixing the ingredients. Either way, personal failure is something I am learning to laugh about as I continue to lessons in the kitchen. It was my first time fixing cornbread from scratch - my second time was much more edible, and I have higher hopes for the third.

When we focus on our short-comings, we lose sight of our blessings. When we covet what another has, be it their (perceived) happiness or their job or their life, we miss out on having our own adventures. Our story is individually written - no one repeats it, and no one's is perfect. Matthew 5:48 says, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Is that perfect at fixing cornbread?
Is that being a perfect friend, student, worker or significant other?
Is that being a perfect Christian?

No. Perfection supersedes all of that. It is loving God above all. It is loving your neighbor as yourself - yes, the neighbor who cuts you off in busy traffic or makes fun of you or hurts your feelings. It is striving for Heaven with all of your faults. It is about changing our human perceptions. We worship ourselves when we lament our faults. We worship perfection, an ideal, when we cannot forgive ourselves for being sinners or less than what we desire. We cannot be perfect like God is we deny the gifts and challenges he has given us.

Does this mean it's time to stop trying? Of course not. But understand what your goals are - be kind to yourself. This fallen world is beautiful, you are beautiful. Beauty is not a magazine cover - beauty is goodness, a ready smile, a willingness to take advantage of this life and not waste the gifts, small as they may be.

Sometimes, I don't want to write posts because I haven't time to think them through. Like this one. I fought myself over writing it. I knew it wasn't going to be exactly how I wanted it to turn out, and it isn't. It isn't perfect. But does that mean I shouldn't write it? Should I stop blogging?

As seen in Boston - "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." 
The quest for perfection is usually the quest for happiness - if all is perfect, all is well. But this is not so - this is life! Messy, unorganized, full of mistakes and the ability to fix them. Happiness is a willingness to try, and be yourself, feelings and all. As the end of the Laurie Berkner song goes,

You're not perfect, no you're not.
You're not perfect
But you've got what you've got
You do your very best, you do your very best
You do your very best each day
But you're not perfect
And you know,
I love you that way.

Follow me on Twitter: @thejulieview


  1. Julie, I love this post! Thank you for hitting publish, even though you fought yourself over writing it.

  2. if you're *fixin'* cornbread, Julie, then it's bound to turn out right!!

    Hope you dont mind my sharing a link to my recipe ~