Perfection wherefore art thou?

Decades ago I picked my son up from a Boy Scout meeting. He was about 10 I think. And in tears. Seems he knew the answer to whatever it was that needed answering and no one would go along with him. As he explained the situation, it became clear he did in fact have the perfect answer. At the same time my heart ached for him at that moment, it also ached because I recognized in him the same perfectionism I struggled with myself.
Years later a cousin came to visit and remarked how incredibly clean and neat my house was. I always thought of myself as both. One of my daughters explained my divorce to her Girl Scout leader as, “Mom puts stuff away and dad doesn’t.” Both of these were occasions for thought and I did make feeble efforts to not let tidiness rule. I often told myself I was going to have a somewhat messy house as long as I had kids. I also told myself it was way more important for my kids to enjoy what went on in the house than the house itself. What were they going to remember after all? The perfect neatness or the laughter, the game of Monopoly, the dancing, the good times? But it was mostly lip service.
Fast forward. Oldest daughter has married and comes to visit with her new baby. One day she remarks to me, “Don’t worry. I’ll be leaving soon and you can get everything back in order.” I stopped dead in my tracks and realized I was putting pillows in place on the sofa…as if that mattered right in the middle of a conversation!!!
That was the day I quit keeping track of where every single thing in the house was – on the pretense it was organization. It wasn’t. It was control and probably fear of losing control. That was the day I quit worrying if my house wasn’t spotless – read perfect. What did it matter if someone saw dirty dishes in the sink? Really?
That was the day I quit trying to remember where things belonging to my husband were. “Where are my….” was now answered with, “I don’t know. Where did you put it?”
Oh, I still believe in organization. It is easier and saves time if I know where to find the scissors or photo album or my brown loafers when I need them. Part of the trick is to put things away when the task is done!!!!! I can do that. The other part of that trick is not to let it concern me when someone else in the house doesn’t!!! I’m still working on that part. Every day.
And the unexpected lesson I have learned from that effort is that I have given myself freedom to let others be themselves and to love them as they are, not as I would like them to be! I have learned the difference between perfect and what Anne Lamont refers to as the “tyranny of perfectionism.”
Perfectionism wants an elusive, never really satisfied sense of control and is ruled by fear of real or imagined mistakes. Perfection is what we already have. The source of perfection is spiritual and its foundation is in the promise, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” I say promise, because someone, years ago, taught me to think of that phrase as, “Ye be perfect”…not as a command, but as an established fact. As a child of God, you are perfect.
Perfection is order, efficiency, joy, and a job well done with proficiency, but WITHOUT setting the impossible standards of perfectionism that do nothing but hamper one’s best efforts.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. pclampson
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 22:03:03

    I should let you know that the Perfection blog was inspired by the daughter of a friend of mine as she struggled with organization in her household with two small children. It came out very different than the light-hearted organizational ideas blog it started out to be. Guess that’s what happens when you let the heart, not the head do the writing!

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