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Are We Expected to be Perfect?

For a large portion of my life I considered being a perfectionist a positive thing. It meant I strive for excellence in all I do, right? If you’re going to do something, do it right. What it took me decades to see was that this desire for and expectation of perfection kept me so afraid to make mistakes that I often didn’t take action at all. It kept me frozen, unable to make progress, unwilling to admit mistakes, blind to the truth of my situation, unable to do things at all because I was too afraid to not do it right. To not get it perfect. To make a mistake. To fail. And it also meant that I spent my life focusing on the 2% I didn’t achieve, rather than seeing the 98% I did.

As Catholics and as children of God, we are called to be saints. Being a saint, though, is not being perfect. Being a saint is saying yes to God. It is doing the next right thing; the next responsible thing; and when we do something wrong, or we make a mistake, or we sin, returning again to try again and do the next right thing this time. It is allowing God to work in our lives. Opening the door to Him and inviting Him in to guide our daily actions; to be ever-present with us throughout our day. To guide our progress as He sees fit. 

If we are holding on to perfectionist ideals - those very specific ideas of how our lives should look; our days should look; our houses, husbands, marriage and children should look; or the vocation WE think our children should have rather than what is designed for them, then we are missing the point. We need, instead, to allow God’s idea of what perfect is for all of these areas and manage our expectations accordingly. It is in doing so, that we will allow ourselves to make imperfect progress toward our true purpose, and allow others the freedom to do that for themselves.

Let’s consider Saint Joseph in the days and hours before the birth of Our Lord. I think we would probably all agree that this virtuous, divinely led, simple and just man is crowned amongst the best of the saints. He was tasked with being the foster-father of Our Saviour. He took the very Son of God on his knee and along his side as he went about his daily duties. 

Do you think Joseph’s idea of perfection in his life included not finding suitable shelter for his pregnant wife, the mother of God, when she was about to give birth? Do you think he was feeling certain of his ability to head his family, to provide for his family, to protect his family in those moments? Or was he perhaps feeling uncertain that he was involved in doing the right thing at that moment?

We know now, with hindsight, Joseph was doing exactly what God wanted him to do in exactly the way God wanted him to do it. Those pivotal historic moments unfolded precisely as God intended because Joseph submitted all he did to God’s will and focused on the next right action: on making progress. Hearing yet another “no room here” and knocking on the next door anyway. Accepting what was offered, even though it was worlds away from what he’d have perhaps thought to provide for his immaculate wife.

We can look to those few days in Bethlehem for so much guidance on how to live our lives; on where our focus ought to be; on what truly matters in our own lives. In the moments leading up to Jesus’ birth, Joseph may not have felt confident in the fact that he was doing exactly as he should be, yet he fulfilled his role - his purpose - perfectly just by doing the next right thing. And doing so, he left a unique legacy. He did his best and left the rest to God. And that was perfect.

Am I saying that we ought to abandon trying to perfect ourselves? Absolutely not. We have a duty to improve ourselves and to make progress towards the best version of ourselves that we can be. To gradually uncover our imperfections and prune them away.

This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections” - Saint Augustine

But we can be held back, distracted and led to despair by those very specific ideals we have developed. What perfectionist ideals are holding you back? Can you, instead, begin to lean into what God has in store for you? Can you switch your focus from perfection to imperfect progress? To the next right action? To unearthing the next imperfection and beginning to work on resolving it?

God accepts and loves us just as we are. He is not waiting for us to change, to improve, to be better or perfect before He loves us. He loves and accepts us now, while we are learning how to change and become better. 


Being a saint is not being perfect. It is saying yes to God. It is giving our fiat. It is letting go of all control of how things ought to unfold. It is handing the reins back to God; surrendering to what He has in store for us. And trusting in the truth that He wants our happiness AND that He has a much better plan than we could come up with to achieve that!

I cannot tell you what the next right action is in your life. Only God can guide you to that. What I can do is share my experience and perhaps you can find an action to try within that.

In relation to motherhood, I expected myself to be almost super-human. Able to give, give, give without feeling the consequences. When I was told by a traditional Catholic priest that I had a duty of care toward myself before others, I felt lost. This didn’t fit into my notion of the perfect mother. Good mothers give until they’re depleted, I thought. I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I didn’t know the next right action. I had inherited the belief and misunderstanding that spending time or even attention on my own needs is being selfish and indulgent. That even having needs was selfish. Mothers are exempt from this human condition, surely?

I did not feel, at the time, like I was doing my best or even doing what God wanted me to do, but being assured from this trusted spiritual advisor that it was a worthwhile endeavour, I persisted. Like Joseph, I knocked on the next door; I did what I could to tend to the next responsibility. I did the next right thing because I didn’t know what else to do. I focused on progress rather than on my misinformed idea of perfection.

With practice, and in seeing the fruits that came from taking care of myself - not only in my spiritual life, but my psychological, emotional and physical life too - it began to feel better. It began to feel right. It got easier. It gave me fresh energy. 

And it made me a better mother. 

It allowed me to give more than I could before, and with appropriate sentiment - with joy rather than resentment.

Trust in God’s order. Do the next right thing with regards to caring for yourself. In my life, doing this has allowed me to see my flaws - the truth about myself - and to have enough patience, compassion and care to root them out with the hope of making imperfect progress toward self-perfection.

My child, everyone must take a reasonable care of himself”… “If you neglect yourself, you can lose in a short time the spiritual strength which was acquired slowly and with great effort over a long period” … “My first task is to save my soul” - My Daily Bread, Chapter 33: Necessary Care of Oneself

God alone knows what is right and what is perfect for you and your specific circumstances. Spend time with Him and He will show you what that is. He will show you your next right action. He will lead you to the next door to knock on.

Be a saint. Say yes to God. Allow Him into your daily life to direct your actions. Surrender your will and your perfectionist ideals to His infinitely more abundant idea of perfect for you. 

The handle is on your side. Open to Truth and Let Truth Bloom.

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