I’m the daughter of an engineer. Many people find this hard to guess, since I lean more toward creativity and emotion than the rational, ordered pursuits of science. But there’s one sure way I’m confident that engineering blood flows somewhere through my veins: I love to assemble furniture.
I know, some people sigh in distress when they see the words “Some Assembly Required” on a furniture piece that catches their eye, but to me, they only add to the allure. I love pulling out a set of instructions, spreading out all the hardware and parts, and then putting it all together. I have a knack for following the directions and producing a perfect new furniture piece every time.
Well, almost every time.
I pulled open the box and set to the task with enthusiasm. After a couple steps, I began noticing that some pieces were slightly warped, making them hard to fit together. I kept building, but I struggled to understand the oddly-worded instructions, and the diagrams always seemed to be showing an unhelpful angle that left me guessing about the proper direction to place things.
With just a few steps left in the build, I realized I’d put a piece in upside down about halfway through. Suppressing the urge to throw my screwdriver across the room, I opted for ranting to my husband about the poorly-written directions instead. I started unscrewing pieces and carefully reworking the steps. After fixing the upside-down piece and once again nearing the final step, the whole thing started to wobble. On further examination, I realized I had put another piece in the wrong way several steps before!
(I swear my husband smirked at this point. This might be because I take a little too much pride in my furniture-assembly abilities, and I might on occasion brag about how I’m the better furniture builder.)
After a lot of muttering and sighing, undoing and redoing of my work, I finally got the TV stand built. There was still a slight wobble. And one of the drawers didn’t glide as smoothly as the other. But I didn’t care. I declared it officially “good enough” and slid it into position in the corner of the room.
This is life sometimes, isn’t it? Despite all our best efforts to follow the directions and do things “right,” things just don’t always turn out. Sometimes, you have to throw up your hands up in surrender.
Sometimes you just have to admit: It’s never going to be perfect.
You Don’t Need Perfect to Make Progress
I’ve written a lot about giving up the quest for a perfect life. It’s been a big part of my story, this effort to let go of the unrealistic expectations of our culture—and the unrealistic ideals I place on myself. I tell people I’m a “recovering perfectionist.” I’m learning to let go of all that pressure for the perfect family, perfect home, perfect career and faith.
And I’ve noticed other voices too—sharing the exact same story. God seems to be up to something in our culture. He’s there, beneath all the air-brushed ads and self-help books, quietly speaking the truth that we’re already loved, in all our messy glory. In this world that idolizes accomplishments, He’s reminding us our true value lies in who we are.
God seems to be up to something in our culture. He’s there, beneath all the air-brushed ads and self-help books, quietly speaking the truth that we’re already loved, in all our messy glory.
So I celebrate messages about self-care and self-acceptance, encouragement to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. I’m thankful for honest confessions about parenting and marriage mishaps. I’m glad so many of us can share chocolate with friends and laugh together about our mistakes. These things help us breathe. They give us permission to stop trying so ridiculously hard to do. all. the. things.
But there’s a little danger here, too, friends. Because right there—in that sweet space where we finally embrace God’s unconditional love, the devil will keep trying to pull us away. When he realizes that one lie won’t work, he just switches it for another. He can’t get us to believe that we have to earn God’s love through perfection, so he tries another twisted angle: “God loves you no matter what. So just sit back and relax.”
Yes, God loves us, even though we’re imperfect. And we do need times for rest—to step away from our busy lives and trust God’s got it under control. But here’s what gets twisted: That’s not all God plans for our lives. There’s a very fine line between “letting go of perfect” and sitting too comfortably in our imperfection.
I think of that frustrating TV stand project I built: I had to work with warped pieces and less-than-ideal instructions, but I managed to create a finished piece. The process was far from perfect—sometimes the only way to move forward was by going back to fix a mistake—but I kept making progress, and in the end I managed to build something of purpose and value.
I’m coming to think of my life the same way. I know God loves me, despite the fact that much of my life resembles warped furniture pieces scattered across the floor. Despite the fact that I make mistakes and misinterpret directions along the way. Yes, God loves me in my mess, but He loves me too much to leave me there. He sees how all those pieces fit together, how they can bring value and purpose to His world. And when I listen to His voice of grace, it’s not telling me to just settle into my weaknesses and give up on my goals: It’s calling me to grow stronger and keep pursuing the dreams He built into my heart.
Friends, we need moments of light-hearted laughter about the everyday mishaps of life. We need those honest confessions of imperfection and the constant reminders of God’s grace. And we desperately need moments to care for ourselves and unwind. But let’s not stay there. We still have a life to build, a purpose to fulfill.
Let’s give up on perfect. But let’s never give up on progress. It might be sloppy. Tentative. Two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back kind of progress. But let’s never stop aiming to become all God created us to be.
Practice Makes Progress
So on the one hand, we’re tempted earn approval from God and others, jumping through the never-ending hoops of perfectionism. But on the other hand, we can also fall toward laziness, shrugging off our imperfections and relaxing ourselves into apathy about the places where we need to grow. I don’t want to be a perfectionist. But I don’t want to grow too comfortable with the title of “hot mess” either.
Does anyone else struggle, wondering how in the world towalk that razor thin line between the two?
In the coming months, I’m embarking on a new series that will help us explore this tension. How do we provide space for each other’s imperfections, while still challenging each other to grow? How do we hold the truth that God loves us as we are, while also discerning how He’s calling us to move forward?
Friends, I’ve found myself on both sides of the line: I am no stranger to either perfectionism or laziness. But in my better moments—times when I sense that God and I are building my life together—I’ve seen a few patterns. I’ve noticed that certain practices help me find these moments of balance. Certain habits keep me connected to both God’s grace and His growth.
I guess you could say that “practice makes imperfect” because through these spiritual practices, I’m growing into a better version of my imperfect self. They help me let go of perfect–and all the pressure and pride that can get wound around that quest. And they give me space to be more honest and more vulnerable. More capable of actually hearing God’s wonderful voice reminding me who I really am.
Sometimes, we try so hard to achieve perfect that we miss the golden opportunities for growth that come wrapped in messy and less-than-perfect circumstances. I’ll never get my life “perfect” here on earth, but that’s not really the point. Practice doesn’t make perfect—it makes progress. And these spiritual habits have proven, time and again, to give me more wisdom and skill for the road ahead.
I’ll share much more in the weeks ahead, but for today, I encourage you to take a look at the list below and consider: Could one of these practices help you on your own journey to fight perfectionism and keep growing in grace?
Practices for Imperfects
The Practice of Celebration – Taking time to appreciate what exists today, rather than striving for more tomorrow.
The Practice of Listening – Inviting God to speak about his agenda, instead of coming to him with my own.
The Practice of Leaving Things Undone – Trusting God with my work so I can take time to rest, rather than trying to finish “just one more little thing.”
The Practice of Learning From Nature – Appreciating the beauty and wisdom of creation, instead of trying to create my own.
The Practice of Looking Outward – Giving and receiving help from others, instead of trying to do it all ourselves.
The Practice of Remembering – Noting God’s faithfulness in my past, instead of worrying about tomorrow’s goals.
The Practice of Solitude – Allowing God’s presence to be enough, instead of trying to fill myself with other things.
I spent hours sitting on a piano bench in my childhood years, plunking out songs and scales on the keys and growing in skill, one practice session after another. I’m still not perfect: Even after playing for over thirty years, my fingers miss a note from time to time. But oh the progress! Could my first-grade self have ever imagined that I’d someday sit at a piano and lead my church family in singing a song I wrote myself? Yet all these years later, it’s the same simple practices, the same chords and scales and rules of music, that continue to help me grow.
Practice won’t make perfect: not on this side of heaven. But it will help us take one step forward, and then another, and another . . . Until we look in wonder at the places where God has brought us.
Thank God that he loves us despite our imperfections, and the notes we miss when we play this song of life. But thank God too, for seeing the person we can become when we seek out His plans. Practice will make progress. And that’s hope enough for every imperfect day.
(This is the first in a new blog series: “Practice Makes Imperfect” Subscribe and stay updated about future additions to the series!)