This summer, my family invited me to join them on a 17-mile bike ride through the mountains, and because I love them, I accepted. But also because they “invited” me sternly not to refuse. It’d been a long time since I’d gone bike riding, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’m not too coordinated—last year I walked straight into the living-room wall. My prospects for success on a bicycle seemed grim.
This is what disturbed me, though: I wasn’t as afraid of crashing as I was afraid of looking like an idiot, especially in front of my friends and family. I wanted to ride a bike. I believed it was possible to ride a bike. But unless I could do it flawlessly, I didn’t want to try. My heart told me to just wait until I could do it as well as anyone else (what beautiful logic!).
In the realm of cycling, this isn’t a big deal—but I think it’s a problem for some of us when it comes to faith. Of course, we love the idea of redemption and mercy. We treasure the hope that comes from the Gospels, the consolation of Jesus when He finds us stuck in our destructive habits and stubborn mindsets. The shepherd and the lost lamb, the prodigal son, the yoke that is easy and light—these stories of redemption and reassurance are our some of our best comforts. But surrendering to that redemption (even when it’s something we want to do) isn’t always as easy as we like. Sometimes we decide not to give God our worst selves.
This can lead to us getting stuck in a middle place, where we’ve begun to realize the gravity of our faults, but still can’t surrender ourselves to the mercy that would cure them. We know God wants to perfect us, and since He deserves the best possible servants to praise Him, we decide to approach Him only once we’ve made ourselves acceptable. When we stay in that place for too long, we end up with a lot of shame, and not a lot of healing.
The hesitation to surrender makes sense, in a way, as debilitating as it is. There’s a dollar aisle at Target where I could buy my mother’s Christmas gifts, but I don’t shop there for them. She deserves the best I have to offer. I think the same is true with God, but when it comes down to it, how could we hope to offer Him anything remotely like what He deserves? Our pride and stubbornness will, if we let them, keep us from giving Him anything at all.
Maybe sometimes we need to remind ourselves to give God what He specifically asks for. He wants us as we are—and He does want us to be perfect, but we’re never going to get there unless we surrender ourselves “while we are yet sinners,” as St. Paul writes.
It makes a perfectionist very frustrated.
Too often, the gift of oneself to God becomes something we plan to do at the end of our lives, when we’ve somehow rooted out everything that needs rooting out. Pride, I think, is what sometimes keeps us from remembering that we need to give ourselves to Him at every moment, starting in this moment, when we’re annoyed at our friends or impatient with the broken washing machine. Like it or not, God wants us—and we may as well like it, since it’s the best and most generous love that has ever existed.
I’d still prefer to do things perfectly on the first try, without advice and without practice. It’s possible you feel the same. But I did go on that bike ride with my family, and I looked silly, but they were glad I went—they mirrored God to me in that way. They didn’t need me to be an instant professional; that day, they just wanted me to let go of my pride and let myself learn to be better, so I could be with them for the afternoon.
God willing, we’ll be perfect in the next life, but it’ll be infinitely more thanks to Him than to us. In the meantime, if you’re stuck in these debilitating ruts of perfectionism, try something you’re terrible at—whether it’s cycling, singing, running, or cooking (if it’s cooking, don’t invite me to dinner).