The best we will ever become is Works in Progress (WIPs). No matter what we do, we will always be like giraffes running on ice — clumsy. Our dreams really will always exceed our grasp, no matter how perfect our plans. I believe that God likes that we dream. We carry eternity in our hearts according to Ecclesiastes. God loves for us to rise up against gravity, so to speak, even though we are coming back down. Even so, perfection—the idea that I can defeat gravity—seems so much better than the inevitable WIP status.
What is the WIP status? It means that I am human and will always be human as I live on this earth. I am going to mess up, miss something, forget something, ignore something, turn against, bump into, walk over, or not know something as I pursue dreaming and hoping, living and loving.
Perfection sounds so much better. You know, to strive and not to yield until perfection is achieved. I prefer the premise (a belief that some people even call faith) that if I work more, figure out enough, try harder, concentrate more energy on doing things for God, I can get to that sweet place of perfection. That place in which I will no longer have to mess with my mortality, live in the unpredictable, struggle with faith, hope, and love, all that stuff.
In perfection—somewhere distinctly separate from the life I will always have—I will have the sweet victory of being undisturbed by life’s impact. I will be completely separated from having to experience life on its own terms; I will be removed from pain. I will not suffer needs or the neediness they bring. I will be personally victorious. So much better than always knowing that I’m going to mess something up, for sure.
We are clumsy. That condition is our reality. Perfection pursuits are very tempting, but they are harmful. They assist us in building illusions of control that we will never possess. They actually defeat us, and keep us from seeing that giving our all is enough. Perfectionism ends up costing us more than it ever produces, and removes us from experiencing the fullness of life. It also blocks us from experiencing the depths of love. Perfection harms children, marriages, and friends. The one who pursues it finds the reality of being a WIP intolerable. They also find the truth of being in need the rest of their lives repugnant. The one who pursues it demands something that is not going to happen and lusts to escape something that is inevitable — the pain of living that is part of loving children, the intimacy of marriage, and the faithfulness in friendship.
If I’m unaffected/untouched by life’s realities, which is the fundamental fantasy in the striving for perfection, it requires that I remain unattached to anyone in life. Life hurts; love hurts worse. Both life to the full and love to the depths thrive in the world of imperfection.
If I’m separated from being touched by life, to protect myself from emotional pain, the potential for love ceases. Perfection-pursuit is a way to put the risks of today off to another place called tomorrow. It keeps me from being present because the present is where I feel life, and the present is never perfect. It stops me from attaching because of the fear of the feelings that will occur without control. It blocks me from being vulnerable to needing you or God, or listening to my own heart, for that matter, and needing—all of which call me to imperfection.
If I miss love, I miss life completely. Love is worth the pain of attachment in a world that is imperfect, even tragic. Perfection-pursuit in us, then, is at its core the attempt to escape the costs of love.
No one overcomes life; it takes a lifetime to learn how to live. We live on earth and there is no cure for our condition. The best we will ever “get” is like giraffes running on ice — clumsy.
We need to work at being WIPs, because that is our true condition. Anyone who demands more is also demanding to find some way around having to be human. Looks like being a WIP may not be the end of things, so much, as the entrance to the things that are very, very real: remembering mercy because we need it, having compassion because we are all in the same condition, admitting mistakes so we can learn, seeking forgiveness because we need it, and working together courageously while we slip and slide to a place called living fully as a WIP. Lastly, being a WIP makes a lot more room for God’s presence in our lives since we have faced that we are not God. Instead, we are marvelously human—created by God and in need of the One who created us.
Chip Dodd, PhD, is a teacher, trainer, author, and counselor, who has been working in the field of recovery and redemption for over 30 years. With his clinical experience, love of storytelling, and passion for living fully, Chip developed a way of seeing and expressing one’s internal experience called the Spiritual Root System™. To read more from Chip, visit his blog, or check out his books.