It is a dog-eat-dog world out there. And I wonder, how much do we let this affect our spiritual lives? Every TV show from Biggest Loser to Master Chef is about competition, elimination and working hard toward the goal. Jesus also says “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48), so it makes sense to carry a steel motivation into our interior lives. However, what happens when we don’t succeed? When we aren’t the best, but instead the worst, the laziest, the runts of the litter? The real biggest losers?
It is correct to aim for perfection. Saint Paul says life is like a race “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). Aim for the crown of righteousness! In our spiritual lives, we have to have discipline, to “persevere in prayer“(Rm 12:12) and fight against evil and temptation. A healthy, growing spiritual life takes work. Yet there is a difference between aiming for perfection and being a perfectionist. The latter causes frustration and anxiety.
I heard in a conference by Matthew Pinto of Ascension Press that in business you should always expect a project to take three times as long as you plan for it and be three times as expensive. So many times we quit because our expectations and goals are too high. So often we quit because we are comparing ourselves to others. We are not good goal-setters, as shown by impossible New Year’s resolutions and over-achievers all over the world.
We don’t know what’s good for us, so we get the concept of perfection all mixed up. Maybe the goal isn’t really to be morally irreprehensible but to learn from inevitable mistakes. God is the ultimate teacher so we should trust him with the goals we are attaining, even if they aren’t aligned with ours.
We should aim for perfection, but accept mediocrity. Perfection isn’t really possible in this life, so although it’s our final destination, mediocrity should be our traveling companion. If we accept mediocrity we’ll get more done. As I heard at a retreat, do the “little, small and possible” (in Portuguese all three words start with “p”).
I find that if I am more flexible about my exercise routine and don’t feel bad when I don’t stick to it; it’s easier to be consistent over time and not just abandon it altogether. I’ve found that projects usually take at least three times as long as you were expecting to complete, but often it can take five times or eight times.
Perfection might have to more with perseverance over time. Apparently it takes smokers an average of seven times of trying to quit before they are able to kick the habit.
Accepting mediocrity means accepting it in ourselves and in others. If you are more forgiving and lenient with yourself, you might accept the brokenness in others with a little less fear. We become less judgmental.
I love Jennifer Fulwiler’s article about how being a parent so many times has made her less judging of other parents. If anything it has taught her how little she knows. All the experiences that make us get off our high-horses of “I-know-more-than-you” are great learning experiences. These tend to be difficult, sad or humbling events that in the end make us softer people.
Accepting mediocrity in others means being more willing to work with others, even despite their faults. As the saying goes, working with others won’t get us there as fast, but it will get us further.
Robert DeNiro says to his daughter’s in-law in the movie Meet the Fockers, “It’s just that I’ve never seen people celebrate mediocrity the way you do.” They have displayed their son’s trophies and awards that aren’t first place (video here). As Christians, we should also celebrate mediocrity. Celebrate our humanity, which is so precious that God assumed it. Celebrate our broken, sinful, mediocre lives that keep on journeying towards He that perfects all of us.