I love quilts. I have one for every bed in our house and a few extra stored in a trunk downstairs. One even hangs on our living room wall.
All my quilts are important to me. Most were made by my mother-in-law. Two—including the one in the living room—were made by special friends. And there’s this beautiful Amish quilt that I bought at a fair in Pennsylvania a few years ago.
I am continually amazed by their careful, patient work–all those little pieces of fabric fitted so precisely together–patterns within patterns, squares within squares.
No, not quite. The story is that the Amish always leave a mistake somewhere in their quilts to remind themselves that “only God is perfect.”
Ahhh, right. The sooner we understand that truth, the happier we will be.
I was raised by two generations of anxious perfectionists for whom good enough was never good enough. Well do I remember a junior high sewing project which my grandmother ripped out of my hands and finished herself because she couldn’t bear to watch me mess it up. Or our summertime to the beach which were so hemmed in by my mother’s rules we could hardly relax and have fun.
I, in my grown-up turn, nearly drove myself to exhaustion trying to do everything right. I would always find one more chore to do or one more weed to pull, like Martin Luther walking out of the confessional booth, thinking of one more sin he hadn’t confessed. Even if I had done as much as I could, my kids would come home from school and mess up everything I’d worked at all day.
I could never do it perfectly.
Instead of recognizing the impossibility of perfection, as the Amish do, I would think if I just tried harder—made a better plan, drew up a better list—I’d finally get there. Only to fail again. I was hard on others, harder on myself and not a lot of fun to live with.
Then I began to notice that the more I tried, the more imperfect I was.
For example, one year when I was working as church secretary, the pastor (who also struggled with perfectionism) decided we would do an absolutely perfect bulletin for Christmas Eve. We proofread it over and over. We read it out loud…even backwards. But after it was printed and distributed, it turned out we spelled his stepdaughter’s name wrong!
What I slowly began to understand is that perfection is a gift, not an achievement. If, by chance, I do happen to do something perfectly, I can enjoy the moment and thank God for it, but should not expect to repeat it.
Why? Because perfectionism is a subtle and powerful sin. Like impatience, it’s related to pride. We want to “be as God” (Genesis 3:5.) He simply won’t allow that.
Moreover, if I could achieve perfection on my own, time after time, I would become too proud of myself and too scornful of those who couldn’t do what I could. I would not be kind, loving or merciful—to myself or anyone else. And that’s not how God wants me to live.
Joyce Meyer writes, “People do not need to be pressured to perform perfectly; they need to be loved and accepted.”
How true. I learn any new skill better, for instance, when my teacher encourages me about what I’m doing right than when they continually point out what I’m doing wrong.
Let’s give ourselves and everyone else some mercy. While we do our best but we recognize, that perfection belongs to God, not us, and mistakes happen. Let’s resolve to forgive them, fix them if we can, laugh and move on.
We’ll be a lot more relaxed and happier…and so will everyone else.