When the “Perfect!” Fit Isn’t

There seems to be an awful lot of Perfect! going on these days, at least in my part of the world. I told my server at a restaurant that I wanted fries and steamed broccoli to go with my entree. “Perfect!” he said. A nurse read off my blood pressure. “Perfect!” again. When I offered 8:30 as a possible time for an appointment, I heard “Perfect!” over the phone.

And then I was at a hotel not long ago and saw an advertisement for “Perfect Pizza.” I really, really wanted to run up to the hostess and yell, Elf-style, “You did it! Congratulations! The perfect pizza! Great job everybody! It’s great to meet you!”

I know it’s just a trendy shorthand for “good” or “fine” or “sounds OK to me,” but Perfect! sure bumps things up a notch. It sounds so comforting, so . . . exciting. And while it’s not my go-to expression (“Great!” is my over-the-top adjective of choice), I still see myself hoping for perfection, and wanting to claim it when I think I’ve found it.

For instance, “Please, Lord, bless us with just the right apartment, in just the right quiet neighborhood, with just the right opportunities for outreach, with just the right distance from the preschool and bus stop, and just the right rent for our budget” is like something I might have prayed while we were looking for a new place to live overseas. And when we’d found a new home that checked all the boxes, we’d declare it a Perfect! fit and would tell our supporters as much in our next newsletter.

A Perfect! fit.

Pardon the detour, but have you heard of “wire electrical discharge machining”? At some point I came across videos of wire EDM, a method of cutting metal so precisely that it’s considered to have “zero tolerance.” Here’s an example. (I could watch these videos all day.)

I think this is often the kind of “basically air-tight” perfection that we’re looking for when we make our plans. But then our hopes are so easily dashed. The street in front of our apartment ends up being a popular parade route, the neighbors are distrustful of foreigners, the preschool isn’t taking new students, the bus line changes its route, or the rent goes up after the first month. It turns out that this isn’t the exact fit we were looking for. So instead of us and our surroundings going together like machined-metal puzzle pieces, we feel more like the proverbial square pegs in round holes.

But these pegs and holes aren’t made out of carbide, and that’s a good thing. While God can miracle rigid pieces together perfectly and instantly, that’s not been my experience or what I’ve seen happen to others. Instead, it’s a much more organic process than that. We’re more like branches, growing in a new environment, clicking, clacking, and rubbing against other branches—people, languages, expectations, customs, foods, climates, communities, schedules, traditions. . . . Over time, the bark wears off, a little from us, a little from them, and we’re smoothed into a fit that’s not Perfect! but beautiful.

It’s a beauty that’s revealed by accepting natural forms that twist and turn into each other, that sand down rough edges, that show scars and bends and gaps telling a wonderfully patinaed story. And the result of that story is a growing together that alters us and them, so that if we’re ever separated, someone looking on might wonder what brought about that strange shape in us, might ask what caused the odd changes where we were.

Now I’m not saying that we should give up on our hopes and prayers or that we should simply accept whatever comes our way. (Some things are not only imperfect, they’re simply unacceptable!) No, I’m suggesting that we hope and pray for something better than the Perfect! location, the Perfect! contact, the Perfect! connection, the Perfect! event, or the Perfect! method.

And in so doing, we’ll learn to hold our plans more loosely. We’ll learn to pray more “Your will be done.” We’ll learn to seek and assert less Perfect! and look for more God-blessed serendipity. We’ll learn that while that apartment will never be what we’d hoped for, it can become the place that makes us feel at home. Over time, we’ll learn to make more room for Unpredicted! and Wonderful! and Challenging! and Sufficient! and Flawed! and Lovely! and Unexpected! We’ll learn to find the splendor of God moving gracefully in imperfection.

[photo: “A few pieces are still out of place,” by Timothy Krause, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Craig Thompson

Craig and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at ClearingCustoms.net.

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