The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

Years ago my first husband gave me a Venus comb murex shell. It was so beautiful, so perfect, I couldn’t even look at it. It wasn’t until the brass stand on which it stood tarnished that I was able to look right at it and accept that it was mine.

A similar thing happened when my mother-in-law gave me a little ceramic rabbit with one tall ear erect. One day it fell over, breaking the ear off at its base. I glued them together and then, when it wasn’t perfect, I could let it into my life.

Perfection. I long for it and delight in it. But when it is offered me, it makes me nervous and I reject it–because I am imperfect and feel unworthy of perfection. All my life I have passed on to others gifts I have been given, the ones I treasure the most–just like my mother did.

And because I know I will spoil, ruin, destroy it. I cannot receive it unless/until it is flawed.

And yet I long for perfection.

I think maybe everything we do here is connected to the relentless pursuit of perfection:

We try to make this world or at least our own world perfect (in accord with our own definition of perfection) by:
–dusting and mopping with a vengeance.
–nagging, bullying, or bossing, try to banish imperfection from others.
–punish imperfection (even in ourselves) by criticizing, complaining and condemning. How many times have we responded to a compliment by pointing out a flaw?

Or we settle for and get comfortable with imperfection, becoming slobs. Or we give up, sinking into depression, becoming indifferent to the possibility of beauty, joy, and justice.

Or take sides with imperfection, contributing our own verbal or visual pollution–trash, graffiti, slurs, hatred. Or take revenge against it, showing by criminal behavior our contempt for it–which is really disappointment.

Or we pretend things are perfect.

In so many different ways we each respond to thorns, dents, delays, dust, crashes (computer as well as car), broken dolls, slow drivers, burnt food, irritating neighbors–not to mention the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. . . whips and scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes”–in short, the “moths, rust and thieves” of life, everything from zits to cancer. We are reacting to imperfection almost every moment of every day.

Maybe we could follow Jesus’ example. He did not invest his heart in this imperfect world but in the perfect one to come. He had no expectations that this world would improve, yet he was constantly improving it: Love your enemy. Go and sin no more. Follow Me. He calls us to do the same.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Soliloquy. Matthew 6:19, Matthew 5:44, John 8:11, Matthew 4:19.


About Jessica Renshaw
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