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Picture Imperfect

November 15th, 2003 · No Comments

Wednesday’s Seattle Times offered recipes and instructions on how to have a Picture Perfect Thanksgiving. (Tips for the hostess include: “Unless you’re partial to the many forms of gelatin salad, aim for variety by tossing in some greens too.”) Maybe it is simply because I am going through a season where I’m seeing how many mistakes I have made, and make, but I am frustrated by the word “perfect”.

Michaela, a while ago, got an Angelina Ballerina book as a gift from someone. She had fun putting all the stickers in the pictures. For a while it sat in her art box without getting read. But now she wants me to read it to her. And I am not having fun reading it. I’m bothered by how often the word “perfect” appears, as in “perfect performance”, “practice makes perfect”….The emphasis seems to be on becoming a “world-famous ballerina ” and being perfect. Neither goal is attainable for most children – a few, very few, will grow up to be a Mikhail or Twyla Tharp, but none will grow up to be perfect. The book’s final scene is a picture of excess: “the most beautiful music” and “Angelina feels like the happiest princess ever”.

Of course, it’s not as if the quest for perfection is limited to holiday dinners and ballet books. The flawless covergirls and stylish furniture displayed in magazines – pleny of images in the media, advertisements and entertainment – taunt us with perfection. We have a culture of coveting. We compare and condemn ourselves when we aren’t perfect.

I’ve done it to myself many times.

Adolescence is an especially angst-ridden time of trying to fit in, with cover-up for facial blemishes, and designer labels for clothes – I tried both. I remember looking at the girls in magazines and MTV, wanting to be someone other than myself.

Even as an adult I tried to have a picture-perfect wedding (ha!), and then I expected an instant happy-ever-after marriage, or at least a life that was smoother than the one I had as a bride. Moving into a new home brought the temptation to try to make our furniture and decor fit exactly. I worked hard planning the perfect garden (ha again!). For years I’ve tried to cook tasty-creative-well-balanced-yet-inexpensive meals every night – never burning! and cleaning and decorating – seeking to be the best homemaker I could be, the best wife and mother. I always failed and felt guilty. My mistakes taunted me. They haunted me.

Having children put my quest for perfectionism to the test, although the beast still has taken a while to die. None of my daughters has been perfect physically. One of our girls has a large birthmark and another has a cyst on her face. I realized that I needed to change my own attitudes about my own body in order for my girls to accept theirs. After all, God made each of us in His creativity, so different, but conformity somehow seems more comfortable. It’s taken some experience to help break me, but I’m finally now accepting myself as I am. And that means accepting me, how I appear, and also accepting what I do, no matter how perfect or imperfect I think it is. My kids also don’t behave perfectly all the time either – neither do I as the mom – and I’ve learned that it’s okay for us to have flaws as a family, not that we shouldn’t be working on them, but that we don’t have to be living in fear of making mistakes. And this greater freedom from fear, this acceptance of myself, allows me to accept others more fully.

Finally, I’ve realized that I was striving for something unattainable, the heaviness of my expectations getting too burdensome. I was asking more from myself than anyone else was, even God. He knows I’m not perfect and He’s even planned for my mistakes and flaws! It’s taken me a while to come to terms with me, who I am, but now I am happy to be her, warts, scars, straight hair and all – even with a weedy garden, dull and dusty house, occasionally crispy cuisine….

Yes, my house will never be on HGTV. And my garden won’t be on the Bainbridge Garden Tour. I don’t have a movie star’s smile or the body of a Barbie doll. But what I do have is me, the way God made me, Julie. There’s a beauty in simplicity. Beauty, not as our image-conscious-culture defines it, but a deeper meaning of beauty, strength, joy, glory even, in what we consider “imperfect”.

So why do we use the word “perfect” so much? What is it we are seeking as a society? Maybe it’s Martha-Stewart-mania or the desire for our children to have happy childhoods. Mistakes are painful and we want to avoid them. The pursuit of happiness is at the foundation of our country, and perhaps we mistake and equate perfection with happiness. It’s easier too to try to make the external look nice when things on the insides might not feel so great.

But I think, perhaps, that the quest for perfection is a desire that cannot be satisfied in this life. It is a hunger for heaven that drives us. We get confused , even deceived, and think we are supposed to find our hearts desires here, when we were made for another life in another place, the happiest and most beautiful place, a place that will be so much more than merely Picture Perfect.

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