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Practice Makes Progress
Photo: Studiomill
We’ve all heard the quip, “Practice makes perfect.” But I’d like to suggest that sometimes that little jingle might keep people from practicing at all! After all, how many things can we do with perfection anyway? Maybe I’m splitting hairs. Or maybe people used to define “perfect” as “pretty good” and didn’t really mean flawless. I’ve found that my focus on perfection has less to do with the task at hand, and more to do with my opinions and preferences.

I once worked on a construction crew with a perfectionist. This man had an unending list of complaints and criticisms about the structures we were building. One time he completely tore down a scaffold made of wood and re-built it right. Of course, right simply meant my way.

After some honest reflection, I realized that I function in much the same way. What appears like work to be perfect is really an effort to be accepted. My desire to do a job well is not always to do the task with excellence, but to receive affirmation from others. In other words, those who practice to be perfect are not all seeking the same kind of perfection!

Perhaps it would be helpful to divide perfection into two categories. The first might be the perfection of completing a job reasonably well. The second might be called perfectionism and is a distorted effort to accomplish tasks in a controlling way that harms oneself or others. Striving for perfection can really be an issue of control or pride. When we are insatiably seeking the affirmation of others by our behaviors, we can try to be perfect to gain their approval.

Not So Stupid After All

A friend of mine completed a construction task in my home a few years ago. When he finished putting up a wall, he slapped it with his hands to show its strength and then said, “See, I guess I’m not so stupid after all.”

I asked him, “Who are you talking to?”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

I think I knew. It was a person from his childhood he was longing to please. Many of us strive for perfection in order to receive the words, “good job.” In the process, we become controlling of others who don’t “give” us these words. It potentially creates distance in our relationships and wounds those around us.

An elderly woman once told me, “It’s taken me years to learn the three most important words in life. These three words are a short sentence I’ve needed to take to heart. They are: ‘It doesn’t matter.’ I’ve spent too much of my life being stressed over things that don’t matter.”

A better jingle might be, “Practice makes progress.” This is especially valuable for people struggling in relationships or with addictions. It’s easy to give up when you feel you’ve tried so hard and seem to make no progress. How much better to leave “reaching perfection” in God’s hands and simply focus on making small steps toward progress.

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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