Perfectionism and the Stewardship of Gifts
by Julie Taylor
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” I heard someone say recently. It caught my attention, because I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, putting in long hours in volunteer or work projects until I meet my own high expectations. This perfectionism has often been an obstacle to seeing what God is really calling me to do. About a dozen years ago I learned a lesson about how we don’t have to be perfect to offer our gifts.
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon at St. Thomas the Apostle Church. I was working as the faith formation director, and I was driven by a desire to do an excellent job for the children and families there. I was also more than a little insecure and afraid of failing. So, I would often spend Sunday afternoons at church trying to get prepared for the coming week.
In retrospect, I should have been home with my husband and children, but I was anxious that I might not be prepared for the coming week. One Sunday afternoon, I was working on a project out in the church gathering area, when I saw a young woman knocking on the locked front door. “What now?” I thought, wanting to finish up my task so I could get on to the next ones. But I walked over to open the front door.
She asked if there was anyone around that she could talk to. I was the only one in the building, so I invited her in. She told me she had just found out she was pregnant, and she wasn’t sure how her boyfriend would take the news. I felt unprepared to talk about this—no workshop I’d taken had covered this! All I could do was listen and ask questions. I shared how much joy I found in being a mother, and that God certainly seems to bring good things out of unexpected happenings. We talked for maybe 45 minutes, and then she needed to go. As she left, I remember thinking that it would have been so much better had Sr. Mary Lou or our deacon been there to counsel her. But there were still tasks to be done that afternoon, and so back to work I went.
About a year later, the young woman returned, this time with a baby in her arms. In the busyness of my life, I’d forgotten about our conversation on that quiet Sunday afternoon. She thanked me for listening and encouraging her the previous year. I remember being a little taken aback—how could something I’d been so unprepared for have turned out so well? It was then that I realized that God might not need my carefully planned projects and programs.
God may work better in the messiness of life, the times when I am unprepared but answer the call anyway. It amazes me to ponder that God may have done more good in the 45 minutes of unplanned conversation than in all the Sunday afternoons I spent trying to be perfectly prepared.
I still struggle a little with perfectionism, and now recognize it as pride: a way to try to calm my anxiety about how small and imperfect and not-in-control I really am. True humility means realizing God is God and I am not, and that we don’t need to reach some level of perfection to make a difference. As St. Paul notes in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me… For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Cor 12: 9 – 10)
May God bless all our efforts to use our gifts for God’s greater glory, no matter how unprepared we may feel!