Perfecting Every Detail • Or, How Reality Continues to Ruin My Life • Part ii

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Perfecting Every Detail
• Or, How Reality Continues to Ruin My Life •


Much like the pressure to please people, the pressure to perfect every detail is rooted in a fine desire: the desire to make things lovely and smooth.

In fact, Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that God makes everything beautiful in its time.

With God already in the business of beautification, we figure we can just join Him there. Pitch in a little and do our part. Maybe even speed up the process a bit.

Because, let’s be honest, don’t we have some good ideas? Aren’t we careful planners? Haven’t we successfully managed previous occasions?

And it’s not like our expectations are so far-fetched. We aren’t asking for the moon. We’re not trying to outdo Martha Stewart with our decorating or rival Jay Gatsby in our party-planning or outclass the Kardashians in making our arrival somewhere.

We just want things to look nice and go smoothly.

Is that asking too much?

Alas that we even have to ask ourselves that question.

Because, yes, all too often it is asking too much.

Asking too much for everyone to get along. Or help out. Or be on time. Or leave the house wearing both shoes.

Or to take one decent family photo.

Just one.

But no.

We fuss and bicker and run late.

Baseball practice goes long and the drive-thru line is slow and the baby needs another diaper change and we have to go back for cleats or sheet music or the gift we wrapped at the last minute.

In spite of our best efforts, it seems like there is always something that gets in our way, always something that keeps us from getting what we want.

Whether it is the share-ready postcard-perfect photograph we were hoping for or the Hallmark moment of familial bliss we’d been looking forward to all month, the reality of the experience does not always match up with the beautiful picture of the ideal occasion we had in our minds.

This disconnect between what we want and what we actually experience can leave us with the same sentiment expressed by one of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes cartoons. After failing to realize his dream of pummeling the neighbor-girl with the world’s largest snowball (which he has made but cannot lift), Calvin slumps dejectedly on his back in the snow, his arm draped Scarlet-O’Hara-style over his face, and declares:

“Reality continues to ruin my life.”

While we may not exactly feel like our lives are ruined when our plans go awry, we do, like Calvin, often come away feeling deflated and discouraged, thinking our hopes have been dashed, our time wasted, and our efforts thwarted.

In short, we do not feel satisfied.

And why is that?

The answer seems obvious: We do not feel satisfied because things did not go as planned and we did not get the experience we wanted.

But a closer look reveals what is really at the heart of matter: control.

We are not satisfied because we are not in control.

The pressure we feel to perfect every detail is really the desire to control all circumstances.

And we want to control all of our circumstances so we can produce an outcome we feel good about, something we can point to with pride and the knowledge that we did it, we made it happen and it was good.

Somehow we think that if every detail is indeed perfect—just like we plan, just like we hope—we will feel fulfilled.

We want to be the engineers of our own happiness. We see a successful occasion not just as a job well done but as source of our satisfaction.

This association between success and satisfaction is why we can feel inordinately let down when things don’t work out and real-life interruptions spoil our chances at success. The letdown is less about our expectations remaining unmet and more about our lives feeling unfulfilled.

In actuality, we probably do not care too much about the particulars of the occasion not going perfectly—that we got bad seats or spilled coffee on our dress or had to take a kid to the bathroom in the middle of the big speech. What we care about is feeling like a failure.

The problem is that we are trying to find our satisfaction in the perfection we work so hard to create—the perfect family outing, the perfect table setting, the perfect group photo.

But the quest for perfection does not lead to satisfaction. It leads to frustration and disillusionment because no matter how much we try or how hard we work or how carefully we plan we can never actually attain perfection.

Things will go wrong. People will run late. Real life will continue to get in the way.

The quest for perfection, then, is a futile pursuit. Or, as Solomon would say, it’s like chasing after the wind.

However, that does not mean that we give up altogether—that we refuse to make plans or aim for timeliness or act upon our good ideas. We can still try to make things look nice and go smoothly.

We just need to stop letting the outcome of an event dictate our happiness. An imperfect occasion does not have to diminish our self-worth or personal satisfaction.

After all, satisfaction is not something we can generate.

Solomon tells us it is actually a gift—a gift from the Lord.

And when we accept this gift, by giving over control, giving up our quest for perfection, and giving into the Lord, the funniest thing happens:

We start to enjoy ourselves. We can relax. We can eat and drink and be satisfied.


Even when things go wrong. Even when real life does not line up with our dream plans.

We start to understand that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

And maybe that’s what Solomon had in mind when he said that God makes everything beautiful in its time.

I think it might be a lot like some of my favorite family photographs.

These are the photographs I was disappointed with at first. They did not turn out like I was hoping, with balanced positioning and big smiles. Nope, these are the ones with shirts untucked and hair sticking up and everyone looking in different directions.

These are the ones I love most.

They weren’t planned and they’re not pretty. But they are real.

And that’s what makes them beautiful.

Click to read the previous post in this series •  A Time for Everything

unless otherwise noted * graphics, photographs, text © 2017 hilary hall

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