Saturday, October 13, 2012

On love and perfection

I've been thinking about perfection again lately, because I feel like my life has been consumed by a quest for it. I struggle with the idea that while I can try to be perfect at all of the things I need to do, I will never succeed. What's more, I often fail miserably. I want to be the perfect mom, the ideal wife, a model employee. I want to meet everyone's needs in a cheerful and timely manner. I'd love to do it effortlessly, with a smile on my face at all times.

It doesn't happen. Day after day, I find myself struggling just to maintain a reasonable order. I grow inwardly frustrated with myself, sitting in the middle of a litter of toys, blankets, pacifiers, and baby socks, cuddling a crying baby. I start the day aiming for perfection, and by day's end, I'm content to steer just shy of disaster. As the week progresses, my discouragement mounts, and my standards get a bit lower. "Home-cooked meal every night" turns to "we ate inside the four walls of our house every night". "Look like a respectable, put-together mom when we leave the house" becomes "We all have clothes on, what more do you expect?!" The lowering of standards is temporary, however, and usually correlates with sheer exhaustion. After some sleep and some more coffee, I find myself expecting perfection once more.

This might seem like a good problem to have. After all, as the saying goes, "shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." The higher you aim, the higher you'll end up. But what of the beauty in those imperfect moments? The shrieks of joy and laughter amidst the litter of toys, blankets, pacifiers, and baby socks. The meal that, while not homemade, still nourishes us. The abundance found in the never-ending pile of laundry. The two beautiful smiles that bless every oh-so-early morning. Perfection turns a blind eye to these, saying they're not good enough.

This beautiful life we live is riddled with imperfection, and I think that must be the way God wants it - after all, He created it. But when He created this imperfect world for us to live in, we were also given the perfect counter - love. Love allows us to embrace each other, despite our imperfect humanity. Love sees through the clutter, focusing instead on the tender and fleeting moments of a child's growth. Love is the only true perfection.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

I haven't quite wrapped my mind around the idea that I can seek perfection simply by learning to love perfectly as God commands us. It almost sounds too easy. My quest for perfection involves to-do lists, standards, comparisons. Tangible things. Love, on the other hand, is at once tangible and intangible. We are keenly aware of its absence, and take comfort in its presence; but there is no standard by which we can measure love. It takes a considerable amount of courage, therefore, to decide to love. To love not only others, but to love ourselves for doing the best we can. To love the beauty amidst the imperfection, and in doing so, find fleeting glimpses of perfection.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears." (1 Corinthians 13:1-10)

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