(This is part of the Practice Makes Imperfect series. Click here to learn more.)
At least there was chocolate.
Those words summed up my feelings as I settled into bed after an evening with friends last fall. It wasn’t that my friends were boring or unkind. Quite the opposite actually. We shared plenty of laughs and interesting anecdotes throughout our time together. From all outward appearances, the evening had been a jovial social gathering.
I was the awkward one. Sweating, blushing, and glancing at the fireplace in distress, wondering Why did we decide to have a fire in here tonight? Isn’t it hot in here? It’s getting so HOT in here! I wanted to crawl out of my own skin and run outside into the cool fall air.
What caused me such discomfort during a casual get-together in my own home, you might ask? What could possibly ruin an evening involving friends and chocolate cake?! Here’s what rattled me: We were gathering to celebrate something about my life!
After months of pouring time, love, and effort into my new blog, I’d recently reached a big milestone. My sweet husband thought we should mark the moment. And after eighteen years of wedded bliss, he knew what would speak sweet affirmation to my heart: chocolate cake and time with friends. So he arranged a small gathering to help me celebrate.
I managed to keep a calm exterior during the night. Aside from my need to shed my cardigan and escape to the kitchen for multiple cups of iced water, I don’t think my distress revealed itself. I answered a few questions about my blogging and then tried to steer the conversation toward others as quickly as humanly possible. But inside? I felt like I’d broken into mental hives. And all because people were celebrating a little victory with me.
As I looked back on the evening later, I wondered Why did I get so weird about that? Who was that squirrelly woman who wanted to dart out the door? Why am I so terribly bad at celebrating the good moments in life?
As evidenced by the story above, my husband often challenges me to pause and mark life’s sweet moments. But me? I tend to push forward to the next thing. Childhood memories of visiting hardworking grandparents on their farm, followed by years of studying to achieve the perfect GPA, shaped me into a woman who values perseverance and hard work. My mantra for much of life has been, why pause to celebrate? There’s so much more that needs to be done!
And there’s also that nagging problem of perfection—or the lack thereof. Part of the reason I felt so uncomfortable celebrating with my friends that night? I felt painfully aware of how imperfect and incomplete my writing endeavors are. I shared a few of my challenges with a lighthearted shrug, laughing them off as small matters. But a more honest accounting of my feelings would’ve said:
“Hey guys, guess what? I have no idea what I’m doing with this blogging venture! I still haven’t earned a dime. I still don’t know much about social media, or marketing, or launching an online store, or a million other things a good blogger should know. I’m still struggling to discern my message, my audience, and how to balance it all with my family life. And it might all end up being a colossal flop . . . But hey, at least the cake is good!”
Sometimes I struggle to celebrate because I can’t see the end of the story quite yet. When things feel imperfect and incomplete, I feel driven to keep pushing and striving instead. I wonder if you can relate?
Here’s the dilemma: Nothing in this life ends up perfect or complete. Sure, we arrive at milestones—graduations, weddings, births, retirements. But we stumble toward these moments on a bumpy road—and on the other side, there’s still more life to live. Another season. Another challenge. Another leg of the journey that’s sure to be marked with missteps and mistakes. If we keep waiting to celebrate until we get it all perfect, we’ll never have anything to celebrate at all.
Bit by bit, God’s replacing my perfectionistic tendencies with a different perspective: It doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth celebrating. It can simply be progress. Growth. Something good. The trail may still wind along ahead of us, but it’s okay to pause along the way and take in the view from where we’re at right here, right now. Sometimes the view can be breathtaking, even when we haven’t yet reached the summit.
Dancing with our Daddy
I remember a long ago morning, cleaning the tub in our bathroom; my very least favorite chore. As I scrubbed away at the soap scum, my son—only a toddler at the time—came into the bathroom and asked: “I help, Mommy?” I knew a toddler “helping” with the housework would certainly lead to more housework. But I decided to encourage his helper instincts. Squirting some mild soap into a bucket of water, I handed him a sponge with instructions to wipe down the chair rail and cabinets. He set work beside me and we made up a silly song about disappearing dirt.
Of course, he sloshed water all over the rugs. And I could see more than a few spots of grime he missed wiping away when he “finished” and stood beaming at his accomplishment. But I didn’t care about the imperfections in that moment. You know why? Because I was just proud of him! I saw his helper heart and I saw him give his best effort to the job.
So we shared a little happy dance in the kitchen and ate some Goldfish crackers together while I praised him for being a “big boy” who could help with the cleaning. And as I picked up the cleaning supplies and placed them back in the cupboard, I realized God had just given me a beautiful picture of my relationship with Him.
God is far more capable to accomplish good work than I am. He could do anything, in a moment, and it would be perfect and complete. But instead, he chooses to let me join in his work. He sees my heart and the purposes He’s placed within me. I’m not the perfect one for any job, but when he sees a willing heart, he hands me a bucket and sponge and says “Come along, daughter. Let’s work side by side”
Do I sometimes slosh a few mistake around that He has to help me clean up? Yup. Do I miss some spots of sin I should’ve avoided? Unfortunately. But even so, God sees reason to celebrate. With each little moment of obedience we give, or act of kindness we share, He’s there beside us thinking “Well done!” “See how you’re growing!” “See what you’ve learned!”
How often do we brush right past these moments and leave God in our dust because we feel the need to do more? How often do seek identity through greater accomplishments, rather than celebrating his presence beside us in our simple everyday work? Here’s the real secret to celebrating despite our imperfections, friends: It’s not about us! It’s not about our accomplishments. Our goals. Our perfect score. It’s about our relationship with a good, good Father, who’s eager to watch us grow.
Sometimes, that growth happens in shiny ways the world around us notices. But more often? Maturity comes through the stumbles, challenges, and small victories that few will see. But that’s okay. Because you know what happens if we stop pushing so hard for our own perfection? We discover the Father who’s inviting us to dance with joy over the progress we’ve already made!
Good and Faithful
I often think about Jesus’ words in the parable of the talents. Upon seeing a servant who invests his fortune wisely, the master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) I think on these words a lot: They’re what I most long to hear from the Father’s lips when I arrive at heaven’s door. Yet I fear those words too, because I don’t know if I can ever live up to them.
As I walked outside recently, I lifted up one of my most oft-repeated prayers: Please Father, help me to be a good and faithful servant. Help me to live a life that’s worthy of those words. And in that holy whisper way, it felt as though my prayer twirled around in the breeze and came right back to me, but with this Holy Spiirt twist:
You already are a good and faithful servant, daughter. You don’t have to wait until you die to hear those words. They’re already true.
I wonder if you need to hear those words today too, friend? I wonder if you need to know that all those little things you take care of—even the ones that will just need re-doing tomorrow—are worth celebrating? That moment when you chose to listen to a friend instead of rushing off to the next project? Well done. That healthy new habit you started to build? Well done. The meeting you led with respect despite difficult coworkers? Well done. The shoelaces tied, messes cleaned, carpool service completed, and smile offered to the tired cashier? God sees it all and and recognizes every little way you offer him a “good and faithful” heart.
He sees you sister, in the middle of your imperfect and incomplete life, and he delights in you. Where you’re growing, where you’re sacrificing, how you’re stepping out in quiet faith. I wonder, if instead of rushing off to the next thing, you need to pause for just a moment and drink this in:
Do you hear God’s holy whisper? “Well done good and faithful servant. Well done!”
Let’s celebrate. Together.
A Few Simple Steps
Would you like to weave more celebration into your life? This practice can save us from the tyranny of perfection, and it can be woven into everyday life in countless ways.
Here are a few simple ideas to try:
- Start a Gratitude Journal: Pay attention to the ways God has been present in your day. Write down one thing worth celebrating about every day.
- Treat Yourself: This concept can become an excuse to splurge in unhealthy ways, if we only see ourselves in the picture. But try treating yourself to a few quiet moments in the presence of God. Could you spare five minutes in the middle of each day to enjoy a small treat (a cup of coffee, a piece of chocolate, listening to a favorite song) and savor it as a picture of God’s presence in your life?
- Get Into Nature: Even on the darkest days, nature offers innumerable miracles for us to notice and celebrate. Take a walk, or watch the nature channel, or simply sip your morning coffee out on the porch: Notice the little “imperfections” of nature—and how God weaves them together to create beauty and wonder all around.
- Share Compliments: Notice and appreciate the work God is doing in other people’s lives, too. Resist the urge to criticize what’s left undone, or what wasn’t done right. (And there will always be something!) Try to catch people doing things “right” and then compliment them on a job well done.
I pray that, however you choose to begin the practice of celebration into your life, you will find it setting you free from the chains of perfectionism and the tyranny of your to-do list. You won’t ever get it all perfect, friend.
But what you can have? The presence of a perfect God. Walking beside you through every simple moment. And working slowly within to shape you into your truest self. That’s progress. And that’s something worth celebrating every day.