“Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.” –C.S. Lewis
Crying Over Spilled Pasta
It was toward the end of a long day, one of those days in which everything seems to go wrong, and I couldn’t help but feel inadequate. I was trying to make dinner for my son when I slipped on water that one of our dogs had dribbled onto the floor from his bowl. Trying to steady myself, I threw out my hand to grab the counter, spilling the pot of freshly boiled pasta in my hand onto the floor.
I looked at my son’s partially destroyed dinner, at the clock, at his sweet face, and felt stinging frustration start to rise. It wasn’t about the spilled pasta. But it was another small moment in a big pile of them that day. I knelt down to start picking up the pasta, nasty words and self-recriminations flashing through my mind. And then I felt him—my little boy was kneeling next to me, his chubby hand on my knee. I looked at him and he said “Mama” with a big, toothy grin. In his own toddler way, he was trying to tell me it was okay.
And I am sure, dear reader, that you have your own memories of moments or days like this. Perhaps you are having one today: your efforts are in vain, your sacrifices feel for naught, nothing is going right, and your worth seems bundled up into a tiny, barely perceptible knot somewhere in your aching chest.
The Perfectionism Trend
Anyone can feel that sense of failure, of overwhelming disappointment in oneself or one’s attempts at getting things right, and I have found those feelings are magnified in parenting. God entrusts us with our little ones, and as we devote ourselves to their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, it is so easy—nearly inevitable—to feel like a failure. The importance of our task is so great and its requirements so demanding that we, as exhausted, overwhelmed, stretched-too-thin people, can feel unprepared for the job.
Perfectionism in parenting is on the rise. Studies published by think-tanks, magazines, and clinical associations have found that the pressure to be a perfect parent has become a dominant experience for many moms and dads, especially in America. There are so many social and cultural reasons behind that rise, but what concerns me most is the inevitable collision of secular perfectionism and our salvation in Christ.
A Heavenly Rubric
When we start down the path of negative thinking and self-judgment, there is some sort of rubric by which we judge ourselves. Where does that rubric come from? Are there study guides we are failing to memorize? Or are we not following a universal cheat sheet? Are some of them perhaps called Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook? The clearest answer is that these judgments are based on earthly standards—impossible standards. They make so much background noise that we cannot hear God in the foreground.
God not only knows that none of us is perfect—He does not expect that we will be successful at attaining perfection. If any of us were capable of perfection, we would have no need for salvation through Christ. That in and of itself is impossible. And we have not been tasked with perfectionism. Perfectionism is not part of the Christian story. If God is not expecting perfectionism from us, then for whom are we trying to be perfect? Our children? Other parents? Ourselves? Our social media accounts?
Matthew 5:48 offers what at first seems like an overwhelming and impossible challenge to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” In context, Christ is talking about God’s perfect love and the command to love others according to the perfect example of His own love. We know, just as Christ himself knew, that we are incapable of loving in the perfect way of God. However, God’s example becomes our standard. God’s inspiration, through the Word and the sacrificial example of His Son, provides us with a goal to aspire to. When we inevitably fail or fall short, we are reminded of who we are in light of God, and why we need Him—for in our human weakness we are destined for imperfection.
The original Greek word used in Matthew 5:48, translated into English as “perfect,” means nothing which belongs is left out, or lacking nothing necessary. This is a comforting concept for disciples of Christ. It is not that we need to be literally perfect, but we aspire to leave out what does not belong and to include what does. In the areas where we fall short, when we are prone to lean on things that do not belong in our hearts, the Spirit inspires us to grow towards holiness, towards our sainthood, towards the perfect love of God. Just as we are sure of our inability to attain perfection in this life, we are sure of the call to grow in our walk with Christ by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit within us.
We Need Christ In Every Moment
We need God in the moments when we spill our child’s dinner on the floor. And we need God in those moments when we struggle to feed our babies in the early days of motherhood. We need God in the moments when we feel more like babysitters than capable parents.
For those without children, those moments may look different, but the feelings are the same. We need God in the moments when that project at work falls on its face. In the moments when we have to lay someone off. We need God in the moments when our lives just feel too small, too inadequate. We all need God to pick us up when we feel like failures. And we need the reminder that perfectionism is impossible, in both a literal sense and in a Christian sense. But our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Sometimes God’s reminders come through a chubby hand on a bent knee, with a tiny, sacred word: “Mama.”
Listen to those reminders, look for them, seek them out actively in the Word, find them in prayer. Look for the safety net of God’s great grace, and aim for parenthood based on love and faithfulness to your great task of raising your precious gifts. Let them see a parent humble enough to admit her weaknesses, to apologize for her mistakes, to laugh over proverbially spilt milk. Show them a parent more focused on faithfulness than on lesser things of this world.
Let us be perfectly imperfect.
Your friend, Taraneh
Taraneh is a big-hearted, passionate lover of God, her tribe, ideas, and words. She is married to her best friend, Justin, a mama to their son Beren, and carries the memory of their angel girls, Aspen and Elanor, in her heart. When she is not chasing her sweet toddler around you will find her reading or writing, cooking from scratch, loving on her friends, or working from home as a marketing manager. She usually has a coffee in hand, or is wishing for one, and has saved, raised, and owned more than her fair share of animals. She is a proud Enneagram Type 5, a certified Christian yoga teacher, and a passionate advocate for both veterans and civilians living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).