It doesn’t have to be perfect.

I’m sitting in my college Honors class.  The two hour class occurs twice each week and is entirely discussion based.  We are reading the classics and then we discuss them, seated in a circled with annotated copies of Western Civilization’s greatest works at hand.  I cannot bring myself to talk and I feel helpless as class after class passes and I say nothing.  The longer my silence goes, the more convinced I am that the first time I say something, it must be brilliant.  It must be perfect.  It must redeem the previous hours of silence.  But with such pressure, how can I ever speak?  After a class mid-way through the semester, one of my peers tells me that I have things to say, I just need to say them.  The perfectly sculpted answer never comes into my head, though.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

It is my senior year of college and I am sitting in my boyfriend’s car.  It doesn’t matter what the question was that he had just asked me.  It wasn’t a one time occurrence.  He asks me a question and the little introvert retreats into her mind.  Maybe the question really required some deep thought, but sometimes it was just trying to come up with the perfect way to phrase my response.  Sometimes we sat there for fifteen minutes, the silence heavy and my brain actively trying to arrive at perfection.  I was asked to just say something and I found it difficult.  It needed to be just right.  It should be a perfect answer after twenty minutes of deep thought.  

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

But I want it to be perfect.

Twice over the past week it has been presented to me that it is alright that something is not perfect.  I am an idealist through and through.  While I live in this reality, my mind is often caught up in a world of what should be.  After a talk I recently attended, there was a bit of discussion.  One of the women who attended shared a bit of her heart with the group and one of the guys there responded to her.  There was an exchange of dialogue and then a couple beats of awkward silence, the group trying to transition to the next subject.   I found that the awkward transition bothered me.  My idealistic self wanted the conversation to flow naturally, for people to share their hearts and for everyone to respond in the perfect way.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, Trish.  

Humanity is a sea of imperfection.  I should be used to it: I’m a little pool of imperfection.  And yet I find myself wanting for things to play out as they do in the movies or in book: perfectly scripted where everybody knows their cues.  But it is fine for things to not be perfect.

Then I went to a retreat and there were a few times when people were able to share a little witness of what they had received in prayer.  When people got up to speak, I felt sorry for them if they seemed a bit nervous.  Yet I found myself internally willing them to not be nervous and hoping they would say everything perfectly.

It made me pause: what is my hopeless addiction to things being perfect?  I’ve scripted and re-scripted how I meet the man I will marry.  I look through food blogs and I pin recipe after recipe of perfectly photographed culinary delights.  I imagine running race after race to become perfectly in shape.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.  In the midst of someone’s suffering, some words spoken in comfort are far better than the nothingness while you seek for perfection.  When hungry, something adequate is far better than the perfectly pulled together meal that never happens.  When training for a race, the ugly flailing of limbs is better than waiting for perfection to spontaneously take root in you.

I am now beginning to understand the phrase that a dear priest would say repeatedly: if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.  So he was quoting dear G.K. Chesterton, but I will always think of him with that phrase.  And now I am getting it.  At the time I probably thought: wouldn’t it be best to do it well?  Of course, if one can do it well, they should do it well.  But some things, one must simply do, whether or not they do it well.  If the race is worth running at all, then I should do it, even if I do poorly.  If the class is worth teaching, then I should teach it, even if I don’t do it perfectly.  If the words are worth speaking, I should speak them, even if I fumble and don’t find the exact phrasing I want.

Chesterton and that dear priest were advocating trying, even if you failed.  That has not been my life motto.  Mine would be pretty close the opposite.  “If something is worth doing, think about it for a long time until you think you can do it perfectly, otherwise don’t do it at all because it might not be quite right.”  A bit of a different worldview, I would say.

I cannot advocate the absolute crushing of the ideals I have, but I can propose that the ideals should be remembered as something to strive for, not the intended starting point.  The goal isn’t to be imperfect, but it is impossible to plan to arrive at perfection immediately.  Instead, the reality of humanity must be taken into full account.  It is acceptable to stumble and fall along the way, as long as we keep getting back up and moving forward.  If I come to terms with the imperfection that is naturally within others, perhaps I can give myself greater permission to come to terms with the imperfection that is overflowing within me.  Instead of masking it, I could acknowledge it and then set about pursuing something more, something better.   

Reality isn’t perfect.  It is flawed, messy, and doesn’t follow a neat set of rules.  But it is what I have.

If life is worth living at all, then it is worth living badly while in the pursuit of something great.  And this little heart of my deeply needs to just live without the strain of perfection.  Jesus said His yoke is easy and the burden is light.  Being perfect is not a part of that easy and light.

I’m not perfect and I don’t need to be…yet.

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