Thoughts on not being perfect (but being delighted in anyway)
Updated: May 29, 2021
I never used to struggle with perfectionism. Perhaps it was because I was surrounded by people who delighted in me. As a girl, my horse drawings were thought beautiful, my grandma always asked to hear what I had learned on piano, and I sang my original songs in church. My great-grandma even wrote me thank you notes for my thank you notes. Perhaps this is the American way, this way of encouraging kids to build up their self-esteem, rather than critiquing them in order to help them approve. In high school, my pastor started criticizing my music – why don’t you write songs about God rather than friendship? This felt like a critique of my character as well as my music. Other high school students started to compare artwork – my drawings are better than yours. And in college, I was never chosen for the elite vocal ensembles even after being assured that I would be.
For the first time, I was simply not good enough. I quit drawing altogether. I stopped singing my songs in public. And I practiced piano more and more, hoping that if I focused on one thing, maybe people would approve again. Interesting how approval ebbs and flows. I studied worship leading, focusing on excellence as well as character, but often being asked to choose which was more important. Should a church hire excellent musicians who are not Christians or use strong Christians who have difficulty carrying a tune? In other places, there was a strong belief that since God deserved the best, if we were any less than that, then we need to either wait while continuing to focus on practicing, or accept that maybe those really aren’t our gifts. These questions still haunt me.
But over the years, I have learned that while God deserves my best, he is the only one who can truly quantify what that means. Did I give God my best when I spent a day serving teenagers or when I stayed in my room practicing? Did I give God my best when I sacrificed my friends and social life to study for exams? Did I give God my best only when I was serving in my areas of talent or also with my unskilled labor? And lately, doing things entirely beyond my comfort zone, things that I have little knowledge of or personal ability to do well, am I still giving God my best? I have felt freedom in realizing that the answer to those questions may be subjective and that, by doing what I believe God is calling me to do right now, I am giving God my best.
I was never that great at drawing, although my mom still keeps my old pictures. But when I look at them, I realize that I was giving the best of my ability in that moment. And while it was clearly not “the” best, it was “my” best. When God asks us to give him ourselves, I believe that is what he is asking, not for the best, but for our best. So I will keep learning not to compare my successes with others, to accept my imperfections and lack of talent in many areas, and to continue to learn and grow, knowing that God delights in me and trusting that ultimately he alone knows when I have done my best.