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Receptivity and Offering: The good versus the perfect

Lynne Baab • Friday January 7 2022

Receptivity and Offering: The good versus the perfect

In 2022, I am offering to God my willingness to purse good rather than perfect. I am asking God to help me receive love and acceptance so I can embrace the messiness of the journey of good.

These thoughts were precipitated by a podcast I listened to recently by Rob Bell, an author, speaker and former pastor of a rapidly growing church in Michigan. (If you want to listen to the podcast, the material on good versus perfect begins at 9 minutes 20 seconds.)

Bell begins the podcast by talking about the creation story in Genesis 1, noting that the rhythm of each day is punctuated by God using the word good. In the creation story, God values fruitfulness and multiplication (Genesis 1:22, 28). Plants bear fruit, the seeds fall to the ground and are buried in dirt, and they bring for more plants. Animals and humans give birth to babies in a birthing process that involves blood and mess, a fragile and potentially dangerous unfolding that often results in great joy, but not always. Good, therefore, involves dirt and mess as a part of the process. All of this fruitfulness happens over months and seasons: the abundance of summer, the decay of fall, the stillness of winter, and the bloom of spring. Good involves seasons of growth and hibernation, action and rest. Good also includes the brightness of day and the darkness of night.

Bell contrasts good with perfect, an ideal we got from the Greeks. Perfect reflects a flawless form that lies behind reality, an ideal that we try to attain. Seeking after perfection can stimulate remarkable human achievement, but perfect in itself has a static quality. Bell says (paraphrased a bit): “You are becoming somebody. You are not static or frozen. We often have goals and think that if we reach the goal, we’ll be perfect. Then we reach the goal and it feels empty. Perfect cannot be improved on. The perfect loses its vitality and heart. Good is going somewhere. It includes dirt and falling on your face. You have to be free to make a mess of things in order to make something beautiful.”

This next paragraph from the podcast (again with some paraphrasing), describes what I’m attempting to offer to God as we begin 2022:

“When you have this ideal of perfect in your head, when you encounter obstacles you bail. ‘I tried but I wasn’t awesome, so I quit.’ Perfect endlessly flogs itself for its imperfections.  Perfect can’t be improved upon, so it’s boring.  Good requires attention, intention, and wrestling, and it allows us to take time. You dance with it. It knocks you down, but you get back up. You try this, and it didn’t work. You try that. You work with it. All of the things you try that didn’t work are all part of it. Good is okay with flaws. Good celebrates all the roads you went down that were a cul-de-sac. Good celebrates the mis-turns as part of it. Good celebrates exploration and learning.”

Bell discusses the inner voices that nag at us: “Why can’t you be like so-and-so? They succeed at everything.” “Sometimes it feels like I continually fall down the stairs.” “You should nail this on the first try. If you don’t, then something is wrong with you.” He points out that every celebrity he has ever interviewed, every person who looks successful from the outside, has aspects of their lives where they are stumbling. “Everybody is doing the best with what they’ve got. Good is about direction, where you’re headed. It’s about your heart. It has room for missteps. The light and the darkness both belong. The death and the burial and the new fresh seedling rising out of the earth, all belong.”

Bell discusses Matthew 5:38 where Jesus tells his disciples they are to be perfect, as their heavenly father is perfect. The Greek word translated “perfect” is τέλειοι, which means having reached its end or completion. Jesus, then, invites us to become whole, who we were meant to be. The pursuit of static and intimidating perfect, and the fears associated with the way we often perceive perfect to be, can freeze our growth and stop us from stepping out in faith to experiment and risk.  Good enables us to learn from our mistakes and keep growing into Christ’s image.

Loving God, who made us and loves us, help me and help my readers pursue what is good. Through your Spirit’s power and encouragement, give us the willingness to try things we don’t think we’ll excel at. Give us eyes to see what we’re learning when things don’t go the way we expected them to go. Help us answer perfectionistic inner voices with the knowledge that we are beloved by you. Thank you for your amazing grace. Amen.

(Next week: More on perfectionism. Illustration by Dave Baab: Lake Hawea, New Zealand – something pretty close to perfect in my eyes, both the lake itself and Dave’s ability to paint it, which of course came from years of learning, experimentation, and failed attempts. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below if you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

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