“Stay with us,” came the morning TV tease, “and we’ll hear from a restaurant critic who’ll help us plan for a ‘stress-free’ holiday. Coming up is his guide to the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.”
Well, that put a bad taste in my mouth. It sort of stuck in my craw, and I tuned out before I heard what to stuff in my stuffing. Any recipe that claims to marry the flavors of “stress free” and “perfect” is 100 per cent guaranteed to cook up gut-wrenching failure and frustration. On any holiday. On any day. In any life.
I used to believe over-achievers who work from the deeply held (and unexamined) premise that if they can just push the rest of us hard enough to live up to their standards, we, too, can become almost perfect.
I used to think “motivational” sayings like “Good is the enemy of Excellent!” were wise. (If you’ve just been to a “success” seminar, bought the idea and the poster, forgive me.) I know they mean to caution against complacency and urge toward improvement.
But real encouragement that builds up and leads to genuine improvement is not the same as arrogant brow-beating that sends the message: you’re inadequate, and you’ll never meet my standards. One leads to hope, and the other leads to despair (and makes most folks want to say, “You can take your standards and . . .”).
Have we noticed? The only truly perfect One opts to save the world through grace, not a step by step improvement plan. Grace not only frees and forgives, it empowers.
But didn’t Jesus say, “Be perfect”? Just a very little study will show that the word means “complete” or “full-grown,” as in “moving toward maturity.” It’s hopeful movement in the right direction! It’s not the arrogant soul-sucking, joy-killing, despair-producing idolatrous lie that perfection will be ours if we just get really serious about “trying harder.” Or, worse, that if we push hard enough, we can force the folks around us to be as perfect as we are.
We don’t get “perfect.” Not here. “Self-righteousness” and “do-it-yourself holiness” are lies. Trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps has one benefit: It shows us how flimsy our bootstraps are and how weak is our grip. We’re wiser, kinder, a lot easier to be around, and a whole lot more useful to God, once our bootstraps have broken. It’s easier to look up to God when we’ve fallen red-faced on our tails, no longer convinced that if you give us long enough and we try hard enough, we’ll get life right, and we’ll get the rest of you to shape up, too.
That’s a sad and lonely way to live. What arrogant assumptions about ourselves make us think we’re suited to live with perfection even if we could get it or force it? Perfectionism doesn’t produce better Thanksgivings or better turkeys—or better spouses, or children, or homes, or churches, or businesses. Settle only for “perfect,” and, not only will you not get it, you’ll chase away “good.” And your joy, and the joy of those around you, will soon be circling the drain.
So do yourself and your family a big favor and forget about a stress-free perfect Thanksgiving. Or a stress-free perfect life. Opt for “grace-full” instead. Then you’ll not only get some great cranberry sauce with your turkey, you’ll get a full helping of joy with your life as you let God do the job of being God. And, ironically, you’ll get a lot closer to tasting what God calls “perfect.”
Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.