Wanting Things To Be Perfect

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You know how it is when company’s coming. Though you always want to keep your house to a certain level of cleanliness, and you do esteem your family members above everyone else, there is just something about having company that sets off a housecleaning frenzy.

I learned long ago that I can’t usually get everything done that I’d like to do before company comes, so I’ve learned how to prioritize and hit the most important things first. If I have enough warning, sometimes I can get some of those long overdue household projects done as well.

But no matter how much I do, it seems there is always something I miss. One time a friend of my son and daughter-in-law’s was in town visiting them, and I invited them all over for dinner one night. I was rejoicing in getting just about everything done that I wanted to before they came. Dinner was not quite ready when they got here (because I decided I needed to vacuum my room before I started dinner, even though it was unlikely she would go in there. It had been needing it anyway and it was a relief of mind to get it done). They offered to help and set the table, but dinner was just a matter of waiting on things to cook through. While they waited, our guest played some different hymns. It rejoiced my heart to hear the piano at home again: no one had played in months since we let Jesse drop out of lessons. We enjoyed a nice time of fellowship later with dinner.

The next day, I was picking up some things in the living room when I noticed some scattered debris on the piano next to the keys. “What in the world…?” I thought. I had just dusted it the day before. As I drew closer to inspect it, I saw it was needles from the Christmas tree. From last December. On my piano in May. We had had the cover over the piano keys closed for so long, I didn’t even think to open it to dust under there. And there it was for our guest to discover!

That reminded me of another time in early married years when we wanted to have the youth group over after church one Sunday night. We had furiously cleaned the day before until everything was gleaming. As the young people came in and then started singing, my eyes strayed behind them to the bookcase, on top of which was the can of dusting spray, on top of which was the dustrag, which happened to be an old pair of my husband’s underwear with the distinctive waistband showing. I was mortified, but I couldn’t do anything about it: if I went toward it to remove it, all eyes would see and notice it then. So I just left it and hoped no one saw it. If they did, they were too polite to say so. I couldn’t do anything but laugh about it afterward, since there was no way to correct it.

I’ve had what sometimes seems like more than my share of laughable, imperfect cooking experiences from disastrous cakes to green gravy to volcanic teriyaki.

I was reading a book on hospitality once where the author wrote about having a bit of time to relax, so she sat on the sofa and read the newspaper. Then someone came to the door, and when she answered it she saw it was an acquaintance who had dropped by unexpectedly. The author was embarrassed that things weren’t “picked up,” but invited her guest in anyway. When the guest saw the scattered newspapers, she smiled and said something like, “Now we can be friends.” When people are “perfect,” we can’t quite relate to them and they can even seem unapproachable. But when we see they have the same struggles we do, then they are more genuine to us and we can interact with them more comfortably.

Years ago when I first joined the Transverse Myelitis Internet Club, I wanted to be a good testimony there. It’s frowned upon to use such a forum as a “bully pulpit,” and I didn’t want to do that, anyway. But I did want to honestly relate how God helped me and I wanted to be a light for Him there while gaining information and support. Because of that, I tried to keep my posts upbeat and hopeful. Some months later another Christian lady joined, and I was blessed by how honest she was about her struggles. She wasn’t morose or complaining, but she shared her everyday struggles as well as her faith. I e-mailed her privately about how refreshing her posts were, and she wrote back that it wouldn’t pay to hide her struggles. By sharing that she struggled with the same things everyone else did, she was more genuine and had more of an open door with them.

In the chapter “Women of Like Passions” from her book Keep a Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot wrote of a woman at a conference who had asked to speak to her, but was hesitant to “bother” her and was a little afraid of her. Elisabeth agreed to speak with her and tried to reassure her, and later the leader of the conference told Elisabeth that the woman had told her, “Oh, it wasn’t bad after all! I walked in–I was shaking. I looked into her eyes, and I knew that she, too, had suffered. Then she gave me this beautiful smile. When I saw that huge space between her front teeth, I said to myself, ‘it’s OK–she’s not perfect!’”

Then in the same chapter she wrote of a time when her daughter, Valerie, was speaking, lost her place in her notes, and after a long, awkward time span of not being able to find it again, did the best she could ad-libbing the rest. She was nearly in tears as she finished, but afterward one person told her it was the best class so far and another thanked her for what she had said that helped her. Later she told her mother, “I couldn’t understand why this had happened. I had prepared faithfully, done the best I could. But then I remembered a prayer I’d prayed that week (Walt told me it was a ridiculous prayer!)–asking the Lord to make those women know that I’m just an ordinary woman like the rest of them and I need His help. I guess this was His answer, don’t you think?”

We need to let go of perfectionism. Who are we trying to fool, anyway? We so want for things to be “just right” when we have company or have an event. And that’s a worthy desire. It shows care for the guests and care for one’s home and surroundings. I’ve been in places where there was no such care, and they were uncomfortable places to be! We shouldn’t be slovenly or careless, but we don’t need to beat ourselves up when things aren’t “perfect” even when we’ve done our best. It helps to just laugh at ourselves (with others, if they’re aware), learn from the situation (next time I will lift the piano key cover and dust under there, and put cleaning supplies away!), and, for serious offenses, go to Jesus for cleansing and restoration. Even though He is perfect, He is approachable because He bore our sin and its punishment so that we could be forgiven. We can never be perfect on our own, but by His grace we can be washed white as snow, pure and spotless.

For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.  For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour (help, aid) them that are tempted. Hebrews 2:16-18.

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:15-16.

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Revised from the archives.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

Related posts:

A Perfect Christmas.
Perfect Peace.
Imperfect Families.

4 thoughts on “Wanting Things To Be Perfect

  1. Barbara, this is a terrific post to encourage ladies in that it is ok that we are not perfect. It wasthat (not very long ago) if my house was not perfect I would start having anxiety attacks! It took me a while to realise that it was silly! SO I started telling folks as they came over, often unexpected, that yes, we live here please excuse the clutter. Everyone was very relaxed and understood. Some times I still struggle with the clutter and anxiety about it but I pray and ask the Lord to release me of this worry over such things. Thank you for the encouragement!

  2. “We need to let go of perfectionism. Who are we trying to fool, anyway?”
    Yes.

    I struggle with wanting my house to be super clean whether I’m having company or not, just because I breathe better (mentally) in uncluttered spaces. And so when we’re going to have company, I assume everyone else is the same way. But they’re not, and while some may appreciate my house devoid of things everywhere, others don’t. (Just as I often feel claustrophobic when I go to a house super-decorated with knick-knacks.)

    The important thing here to me is that we examine our motives of “why” we want our homes to be the way they are. My husband prefers our house have a messy look with guests so they’ll feel comfortable. 🙂 I don’t agree with him there totally, but I can at least see his point.

    Great post!

  3. You have wonderful stories to tell, Barbara. They probably didn’t feel so wonderful while you were feeling mortified, but God didn’t waste those moments at all.

    Like you, I often find that “company coming” dislodges me from “do it later” mode to “do it now!” mode. And procrastinated projects get done. In the end, I feel better for having the extra pressure to push through.

  4. Pingback: A look back at 2013 | Stray Thoughts

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