Much like the pressure to please people, the pressure to perfect every detail is rooted in a fine desire: the desire to make things lovely and smooth.
In fact, Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”
And since God’s already in the business of beautification, we figure we can join Him there. Pitch in a little and maybe even speed up the process a bit. Because, let’s be honest, don’t we have some good ideas?
After all, it’s not like our expectations are so far-fetched. We aren’t asking for the moon. We’re not trying to outdo Martha Stewart with our decorating or rival Jay Gatsby in our party-planning or outclass the Kardashians in making an arrival somewhere.
We just want things to look nice and go smoothly.
Is that asking too much?
Yes, all too often it is too much to ask—for everyone to get along. To help out. To be on time. To leave the house wearing both shoes.
Because we fuss and bicker and run late. Because practice goes long and the drive-thru is slow and the baby needs a diaper change and we have to go back for cleats or sheet music or the gift we wrapped at the last minute.
In spite of our best efforts, real life does not always match up with the ideal scenario we envision.
This disconnect between our ideal and our reality can leave us feeling dejected and dissatisfied, thinking our hopes have been dashed, our time wasted, and our efforts thwarted.
And why is that?
Because somehow we think that if every detail is indeed perfect—just like we plan, just like we hope—we will finally feel fulfilled. Successful. Happy.
In all actuality, we probably do not really care too much that the particulars of a situation are not going perfectly—that we got bad seats or spilled coffee on our dress or had to take a kid to the bathroom in the middle of the big speech. What we care about is feeling like a failure.
And when things do not go according to plan, we blame ourselves, counting as personal failures even the things we have no way in the world of controlling, like traffic or the weather.
Conversely, we see a successful outcome not just as a job well done but as a source of our satisfaction and self-worth.
This association between success, satisfaction, and self-worth is why we can feel inordinately let down when things don’t go as planned and when real-life interruptions spoil our chances at achieving the ideal. The letdown is less about our unmet expectations and more about our feelings of failure and inadequacy.
But an imperfect occasion does not have to diminish our self-worth or personal satisfaction.
We try to be the engineers of our own happiness, but the problem is that we are looking for that happiness in the perfection we work so hard to create—the perfect family outing, the perfect table setting, the perfect group photo.
However, the quest for perfection does not lead to happy satisfaction. It leads to frustration and disillusionment because no matter how much we try or how hard we work or how carefully we plan, we can never attain perfection.
Things will go wrong. People will run late. Real life will continue to get in the way.
The quest for perfection, then, is a futile pursuit, but that does not mean that we give up altogether—that we refuse to make plans or aim for timeliness or act upon our good ideas. We can still try to make things look nice and go smoothly.
We just need to stop letting the outcome of an event dictate our sense of satisfaction.
After all, satisfaction is not something we can generate.
Ecclesiastes 3:13 tells us it is actually a gift—a “gift of God.”
And when we accept this gift, by giving up our quest for perfection and giving into the Lord, the funniest thing happens:
We start to enjoy ourselves. We can relax. We can eat and drink and be satisfied.
Even when things go wrong. Even when real life does not line up with our dream plans.
We start to understand that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.
Maybe that’s what Solomon had in mind all along when he said that God makes everything beautiful in its time.
I like to think that it’s a lot like some of my favorite family photographs.
I was disappointed with these photographs at first. I was hoping for portraits with balanced positioning and big smiles, good lighting and flattering poses. Instead I got untucked shirts and hair sticking up and everyone looking in different directions.
These are the photos I love most.
They weren’t planned and they’re not perfect. But they are real.
And that’s what makes them beautiful.
What do workers gain from their toil?
I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart;
yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
I know that there is nothing better for people
than to be happy and to do good while they live.
That each of them may eat and drink,
and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.
• Ecclesiastes 3: 9-13 •