Monday, March 7, 2011

The Paralysis of Perfectionism

At my home here in Montgomery, I have in the front yard two very large trees.  One is an oak, the other a sweet gum.  Of the two, the sweet gum is by far the most troublesome.  In fact, I have considered having it removed on several occasions.  

During the Christmas break, I spent the better part of one beautiful, cold morning raking leaves and dried sweet gum balls in preparation for the city’s yard debris pick up scheduled for later in the day.  My lawn is large, and the raking that I had to do, even with a good-sized rake, amounted to an invigorating workout. 

As I was working, I noticed that even though I had a large pile of leaves and things accumulated, there were still leftovers lying all around the area I had raked.  My immediate desire was to go back over the area, and over it and over it, until every last leaf particle, twig, sweet gum ball, or other piece of trash had been removed, thus leaving a pristine carpet of brown, dormant grass.  However, time was ticking away.  I expected the great, orange, City of Montgomery garbage truck to be along any minute, and I needed a large pile curbside for pickup. 

As I made the decision to pile up as many leaves as possible, and leave the residue for another day (or, perhaps, for the lawnmower), it dawned on me that the tendency to perfectionism can be, and very often is, a cause of paralysis in even the best meaning of people.  

How many times have we not started a task because we didn’t know where to begin, and the mountain before us seemed too steep to climb?  How many times have we failed to do something because it couldn’t be completed perfectly on the first try?    How many times have we not tried something new because of the fear of failure?

The expectation of perfectionism this side of Heaven is a pipe dream.  It will never happen.  It can’t happen.  And our belief that it somehow will happen is crippling.

In the Bible, we see laid out for us plainly, and without any attempt to cover or hide, the faults and mistakes of every single character, save one – Christ Jesus.  

When we study the lives of great men and women, we discover that they all made mistakes.  What contributed to their success was not perfection, but perseverance.   You see confidence, but not smugness.  A willingness to learn and grow and try again and again and again.

As you go through this week, try not to let perfectionism paralyze you.  Instead, focus on tackling things in manageable, bite-sized pieces.  When you fall down, pick yourself up and try again.  For it is through our failures that we often grow the most.

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