Tonight I was watching a video on how to knit a fair-isle sweater by a woman who has been knitting longer than she could read, her mothers and grandmothers all knitted. It was how they earned money for the household, and how they could barter for goods, and how they kept their families warm.
By the time she made the video she was a grandmother herself and had returned to knitting for her own pleasure and to pass the knowledge on.
As the video progresses and she gets to one of the fiddly finishing bits, she offers these words of encouragement if your work is less than perfect:
My golden rule is will the man on galloping horse notice.
To me this was a reminder that even the most skilled among us don’t require perfection at every stitch in their work.
I believe their is a paradox in the level of mastery that someone can attain in a skill. That paradox is that it is not the people who require perfection of themselves that become masters, it is the people who realize when and how rarely perfection actually matters.
If anything, the desire for perfection can prevent mastering a topic or a skill because people who give up after making a mistake or because their work is not perfect don’t hang in there long enough to get more skilled.
Also, humans only have so much time in a day. To get better at something we have to spend time doing it. To even maintain a skill we have to keep putting time into it.
I know at times I can be hesitant to do something because I can’t do it up to a standard that I think is important, mostly because I’m afraid of being judged and found wanting. However, my experience has been that when I step up and act (or knit, or sing, or suggest a political action) people around from friends to strangers on the Internet respond positively.
We were not created to be perfect beings, yet part of us seems to yearn to be perfect.
Again and again, my own experience is that there is no perfection this side of heaven (if there is a heaven & I don’t actually count on that).
Waiting to do something until my skills are perfect or the moment is perfect or until I have found the perfect words, results in me missing opportunities to be active and present in this world.
And since I’m a little shaky on the existence of any other world after this one, I’d better not waste my limited time waiting around for something that can never come.
Just yesterday I was participating in a web-inar with a yoga teacher and the phrase the came up over-and-over again was:
Something is always better than nothing.
One woman shared that her yoga practice when she was suffering from severe fatigue was to visualize herself doing the poses and to move one hand to link her visualization to her living body.
Another shared how she had slowly built up from using a chair to do yoga poses to being able to do the full pose.
Both of these women would have no yoga practice at all if they hadn’t started where they were with what they had and not waited to be perfect to begin.
This is true of everything in life from flossing to comforting someone in grief and distress. There is no one right way to act, there is no one right way to be, there is no one right way to learn but failing to act while waiting for the perfect moment is always, to me, a sign of fear.
When fear disguises itself as a desire for perfection, I need to remember the grace that my faith gives me.
I see in the New Testament that none of Jesus’s followers were perfect. None of them had a sense of the ‘right time’ for an action. They sometimes made terrible choices, they frequently didn’t understand what was going on around them.
Still Jesus choose to be with them. From disciples to tax collectors, from the anointing woman to the hemorrhaging woman to the woman at the well all had something to learn and something to teach and Jesus opened himself up to everyone of them (sometimes with a little prodding). The thing they all had in common was in taking action either by responding to Jesus’s call or by approaching Jesus on their own and asking for what they needed.
Jesus, incarnate, welcomed all of the imperfect, foolish people who came to him and encourage them to act more, not less. He might have gotten frustrated with them at times, but he carried on and loved them to the cross and beyond.
For me Jesus becoming incarnated in the world as a person is God’s reminder that we were made in an image of God and that God joined us in that imperfection to spur us on as the prophet Micha said:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Can a man on a galloping horse see the imperfections in your work, your skill, your words, or your love?
If not, your work is good enough. Go out and do what you are called to do, imperfections and all.
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.