Monday, July 26, 2010

The Curse (and Blessing) of Perfection

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am a perfectionist. I admit it. Darn it, I just want things to be right. I have been “recovering” for years now, but I can’t seem to kick the desire to have everything (and everyone) in order. For some reason, no matter how many times I learn that there is no perfection in life, I still have some deep-seated need to try for it.

This week we had a family Saturday at home. I didn’t start out with a conscious “Martha Stewart” dream. I just wanted to provide a nice dinner for Bryan before he went to sing at an evening wedding. That was really my only goal. I started a roast at 10 a.m. (believe me, this is not my typical routine). I did some reading and writing, fiddled with my Facebook page, and did the appropriate amount of oo-ing and ah-ing when the girls came to show me their fashionable dress-up clothes. It was a relaxing Saturday…for a while.

Then came the request, “Mom, will you teach us how to sew?” (Yeah, sure, if I knew how!) “Please, Mom! Will you help us make a dress for Baby Kate?” How hard could that be, really? “Yes, later, I replied.” My girls wanted me to teach them a valuable skill. It would be fun to spend time together, right? And so began the vision in my head that looked something like a smarmy episode of Little House on the Prairie.

Before we could get to sewing, we ate our late-afternoon dinner. I forgot to put the carrots into the slow-cooker on time. The potatoes were done and getting cold as I franticly boiled the carrots on the stovetop. Running late for the wedding, Bryan ate in 10 minutes flat. So much for our delicious, heartwarming family meal… Exactly fifteen minutes after the food hit the table, I was rinsing the remnants off the plates. The massive clean up effort was underway. It was exhausting…and pretty unfulfilling.

Hours later, ready to begin the sewing lesson that was sure to redeem the day, I gathered supplies. Toting iron and ironing board up the stairs, I surveyed the playroom. As if traipsing through the ruins of a city after battle, I observed the aftermath of a full day of creative play. Tiny beads blanketed the carpet in my office along with multi-colored pipe cleaners, belly dancer costumes, play money, doll clothes, markers, scissors, tape, paper, Polly Pocket furniture, and assorted naked Barbies and their parts (legs, heads…don’t act like you don’t know what I mean!). My throat began to tighten.

When the clean-up was complete (and I mean complete by the standards of a 6-year old and an 8-year-old), we finally arrived at our hallowed sewing lesson. As I stood at the ironing board preparing the materials and making a pattern for the doll dress, the noise in the little room grew and grew. I gave instructions, but I noticed no one was really listening. Instead, at my feet were two little monkeys using the ribbon I had chosen for the dress to tie their ankles together for a make-shift indoor three-legged race. It was not what I had envisioned.

Three hours later, both girls had gotten a chance to push the pedal and sew a few stitches, which was probably all they wanted to do in the first place. I, on the other hand, had hoped to emerge with an actual doll dress. But, I had made two failed bodices, and I decided to wave the white flag of surrender. Three hours, a big mess, a strained and stressful experience in a small room with my sweet (but busy and noisy) children…and there was nothing to show for it. What does one do next? Eat cake.

Downtrodden, I sat on the couch watching cartoons with the girls, inhaling chocolate cake, and trying to figure out what went wrong. Why does it seem that the more I try, the more I fail?

A commercial came on between cartoons. A preschool teacher touted the amazing properties of Moon Dough. Five impeccably dressed preschool children played quietly and joyfully at a table with the magical play dough. The classroom was immaculate. Every toy was in place except for the ones currently being used. The children shared and managed the supplies without adult help. Perfectly shaped animals and pizza toppings and dough blocks adorned the table. IT WAS TOTALLY UNREALISTIC!

What would that scene look like amongst real people? All of the dough would be brown because the kids would have mixed it all up. The decibel level in the room would rival a rock concert, not a library. Kids would be fighting over supplies and asking for help and tattling. There would be crumbs of dough all over the table, and some of it would be ground into the carpet. The playroom would not look like the Pottery Barn Kids catalog, every toy and supply appropriately categorized and labeled. There would be games with missing pieces, and yes, naked Barbies with missing legs. Some kid would be wiping his runny nose on his sleeve, and some kid would reek of maple syrup because she had yesterday’s breakfast crusted into her hair. Real life ain’t pretty, folks.

And it dawned on me: The whole world has been lying to me about what it means to be a mother. And, I have bought the lie hook, line, and sinker. No wonder I feel disillusioned and disappointed sometimes. That, my friends, is the curse of perfection. There is no perfection under the sun. My children’s counselor used to tell them, “Better done than perfect.” I like that.

With that said, even though there is no perfection “under the sun”, perfection does exist! Sometimes I think we forget that the desires of our heart are often an expression of our longing for eternity. I think, in some ways, my desire for order and beauty and cleanliness and a good meal with family is really a longing for a return to the perfection of the Garden of Eden. It is a longing for the beauty God will bring when Jesus returns and establishes his kingdom on Earth.

Our longing for perfection is not the problem. The problem is looking for the fulfillment of our desire for perfection on this side of Heaven. Randy Alcorn says that Heaven will not be a place where there is a lack of desire, it will instead be a place where there will be constant fulfillment of desire (from his book Heaven).

I don’t know if that means that in Heaven my carrots will always cook before the potatoes get cold or if that means I will have the patience and the wisdom not to care. Either way, we will have an earthly existence in real bodies and get to appreciate the best of God’s creation. We will finally see that many of the desires God placed in our hearts were reflections of his own heart. But, our desires will finally be pure, and they will be fulfilled. Some day we will be blessed by perfection.

1 comment:

mary liz said...

Sarah, I smiled as I read this....I can totally relate! love you!
- Marian