So many folks are out there pursuing something perfect, the perfect mate, job, house, car, vacation, etc. (You know who you are.) Exhausting, isn’t it? Know why? Cuz it’s a false construct, blog swallows. Perfect does not exist and cannot. No matter how precisely you want to cut the diamond or vacuum your living room carpet, under microscopic inspection– flaws, dust and blemishes appear. If you put the microscopic imperfections under a higher powered microscope, you’ll see even more flaws, dust and blemishes. Perfect is an airbrushed, photo-shopped illusion then. We have made the word concept into something it cannot be. Here is the word origin or etymology if you want to flaunt your vocabulary muscles:
Simply put, perfect means finished or completed. The thing being described needs nothing further. Somehow over the centuries this low bar was raised unattainably high to mean flawless and unblemished. This is an interesting turn away from what something is, toward what it is not. And it is a trap easily wandered in to.
Anorexia nervosa, I think, is the deadly pursuit of an imaginary and perfect body image… “just another five pounds and I’ll stop…” The winner of this competition dies a perfect skeleton. How quaint. They are finished alright.
OCD folks are often perfectionists, chasing the impossible, fully throttled by anxiety. Steps are counted, objects balanced symmetrically, clothes matched, Christmas lights strung exactly and high, i.e., high strung like the stringer of the lights is. Banging away on a mental drum, inner insecurity pulses. Organizing and arranging the outer world somehow calms the OCD sufferer temporarily.
Chasing perfection is a bad dream, though, where you are pole vaulting ever higher and the bar keeps rising, even beyond Olympic levels. No matter how good the vaulter, his record reflects the last height before he failed. Every time achievement is reached, the bar is moved higher, the goal posts farther back, until a new inadequacy is birthed. Winning now is only losing later. In many ways it’s like an addiction wherein the dosage needs to keep increasing to chase the original ephemeral high.
My little ditty for clients goes like this: Perfection is a living room you can’t live in. A car you can’t drive. It’s a coin you can’t spend and a stamp you won’t send. These things are perfect and precious. They must be kept in a museum. Untouched and uncirculated no seeums. Tragic, really. The precious thing can never be enjoyed by anyone except in some abstract glory. It is preserved under glass like the Constitution or a butterfly. Safe but very dead.
Once upon a time there was a guy who collected coins, or should I say hoarded them. He and his wife lived in an old ranch house that needed painting and new carpeting, and a bunch of other improvements. He told his wife to pick out paint, then they’d get on to the other issues. She came home with five sample cards featuring white and off white shades. He didn’t care for any of them. So the wife went to another paint store and came home with five new cards featuring white and off white shades. He methodically vetoed each choice.
Meanwhile Harry the hoarder had a security system installed to protect his million dollar coin collection. Each door and window was wired to an alarm that would sound whenever it was opened. The new unilateral policy became “No open windows”. At some pinpoint of squinty reasoning it sort of made sense because he had a fortune in coins in a big vault somewhere in this weathered ranch house. But how would they paint the living room if the windows couldn’t ever be opened? Ahhh, it was a logical and passive-aggressive trap: you can paint the living room once I agree to the right shade of white and only if we never open the windows. What contingencies!
Meanwhile the wife grew sad and felt trapped in a dingy house with drab paint and worn out carpeting, and no hope of change because her husband’s coins mattered more than anything she could conceive of. He never said this overtly, but the message was spray painted on the brick wall of his actions.Harry’s perfect world became his own perfect prison. Everyone was a suspect, a potential thief who would rob him of his holy treasure. He lived in fear like Midas, surrounded by cold, unloving coins. His paranoia ran so deep that he shred any paperwork and used municipal dumpsters for his household trash. He knew that some evil geniuses could reconstruct what was in his house by reverse engineering what was in his trash. And he just could not be too careful with all that money sitting in a hidden vault. He wanted to be a good steward.So he said.
Harry had layers of protection for his treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mt. 6:21. The problem was not with his treasure, however. His unguarded heart grew layer upon layer of cholesterol and plaque– atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. His heart literally grew hard as a stone.
Ezekiel 36:26 goes like this, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Harry, on the other hand, wanted a heart of gold where no messy blood flowed through.
Joy finally got to paint her living room, got new beige carpet, and opened the windows. It would have been perfect if Harry hadn’t died prematurely. On the sunlit wall she put a picture of Jesus crucified. The caption read, “It is finished not perfect.”