How To Be Perfect

Perfection.

There was a time, long ago, when I was perfect.

It was in high school. I had perfect grades and perfect hair. I had perfect friends who did perfect things. I was perfectly behaved. I always made my bed. I won almost every contest I entered and qualified for every scholarship I applied for. I was graceful. I was fit. I baked pies.

But then I went to college and I suddenly found myself surrounded by hundreds of other perfect people. My magic touch only worked half the time. Compared to those around me I had semi-perfect grades and I was almost graceful, and not quite fit enough. I won half the contests I entered.

And then . . .

. . . I had children.

Now I get pink eye every other week. My clothes stay clean for the first five seconds after I put them on. The last thing I won was a Relief Society cookie-baking contest in 2006.

The only clean room in my house is the front porch. I shudder every time I consider wearing my high heels. Three days ago I dropped this pizza on the floor, without one child in the room that I could blame.

Then there are days like today when I think I have everything together, everything is in place. I am showered, my kids are showered, and I get all five of them to the dentist for their appointments not only on time, but early . . .  only to find out we are there on the wrong day, and at the wrong time.

I started my adult life reasonably intelligent with more than my fair share of potential.  I work hard. I try hard. I do have goals. You would think that as life goes on I would eventually get better, not worse.

The Most Perfect Person of All

At church I teach the 14 to 18-year-old teenage girls, an age that is often obsessed with perfection. Last Sunday I brought a picture of The Most Perfect Person In The World and taped it to the chalkboard.

The Most Perfect Person In The World, Exhibit A

I asked the girls to tell me what makes Barbie perfect.  Here are some things they listed:

Beautiful, perfect body, perfect hair, a million different dresses, the perfect boyfriend, a big house, lots of jewelry, lots of friends, lots of careers, etc, etc, etc.

After we talked about Barbie for a while I took down her picture and put up a picture of this person:

The Most Perfect Person In The World, Exhibit B

Then we listed all the things that made him perfect:

Humility, love, kindness, mercy, meekness, forgiveness, etc.

After listing these attributes we compared the lists. Even though both Jesus and Barbie are often described as “perfect” there was not one quality that was common between the lists. Not even one word. The closest thing was that we had described Barbie as “nice” and Jesus as “kind.”

One of the girls pointed out that our society distorts the word perfect. But after discussing that further we decided that the meaning of the word perfect was not just distorted. It had come to mean something completely opposite.

So the opposite of perfect is. . . Perfect?

Exactly.

Years and Millimeters

I took a college course on calligraphy. The word calligraphy means “beautiful writing.”

It was not an easy class. When you first begin this class you do a lot of uglygraphy.

For the class we did not use felt markers, but real nibs like this.

And real ink like this.

In calligraphy mistakes are obvious and ugly. Often we had to take out a new piece of paper only to make another mistake. There were always so many ways to mess up, so many things that could go wrong, so many ways to fail.

For instance, we had to learn several different “scripts” (fonts). Some scripts have serifs. Serifs are the teeny tiny marks at the ends of each letter.  The scripts that don’t have them are called sans serif, or without serifs. People often talk about dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s, but with the art of lettering you also need to make sure you have every serif in its proper place, with the proper angle and the proper length.  If your serifs are not parallel it can make your finished product look less like art and more like the worms drying up on a sidewalk after a rainstorm.

Plus, spelling becomes a major issue in calligraphy. You become so focused on your strokes, so aware of the amount of ink in your nib and so nervous about spattering ink on your expensive, pristine Bristol paper, that it is not uncommon to suddenly realize you left out a p in the word happiness or you suddenly can’t remember how to spell the word and. Spelling catastrophes are common and devastating.

In short, there are a million different ways to mess up. Just like life.

It is important to have guide lines to help you stay on track. These were our practice sheets.

Some scripts require even more guide lines.

The more we practiced using these guide lines the better we became. (Also like life.)

With each assignment we improved . . . kind of. But our work, even by the end of the semester, did not look anything like our teacher’s.

One day he brought in some slides of his portfolio and we gaped in awe. He was a master. His artwork was flawless. Then he told us his secret.

“Years and millimeters,” he said. “That is how you become a master calligrapher.”

Years and millimeters. Did not Christ learn that way, too?  Perhaps even someone who is perfect has to grow into their perfection, little by little, grace by grace.

A Race We All Can Win

We all come to earth with different talents that get us different places. Some people are born better at learning. Some people are born with athletic gifts. Some people are lucky enough to be born with that particular body type that is marketed to us as “attractive.” But there is a limit to how much we can change about our appearance and our raw talents.  Not all of us will compete in the Olympics, earn PhDs or win a beauty pageant. Sometimes we just can’t be faster or smarter or prettier. It is just not possible because it is not in our DNA.

But all of us can be kinder, more patient, more generous, more humble, more meek. That is the kind of perfection that each of us can improve on, and that is exactly the kind of perfection God asks of us. And it is in our DNA because we are all sons and daughters of God.

That makes the pursuit of perfection a race everyone can win because it is not about competition and all about self-mastery.  God does not compare me to others. He compares me with who I was yesterday. He doesn’t care if I am better than someone else, he cares if I am better than who I used to be.

So now that I have five children I do not win as many contests as I once did. I am not as glamorous or talented or graceful as I once was. I probably make more mistakes now than I did before.

But I will tell you that, even with the dark circles under my eyes, my stained shirt, and the crumbs in my hair, I am more forgiving, more gentle and more patient than I ever was in my 36 year history. I have decided that perfection less about the spilled milk and more about keeping my cool as I clean up the mess. I guess you could say that I am closer to perfection than ever. I have a long ways to go, of course. But I will get there. Year by year, millimeter by millimeter.

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