By Audrey Bowden

Perfect #2

My fiancé and I have a running joke: he says that I’m Perfect #2, I retort that so is he, and then we laugh! We know we are not Perfect #1 — Perfect #1 being flawless perfection in all its glory, no strings attached. Perfect #2, however is all about context — a thing, a person, a place can still be perfect for some thing, some one, some place...without itself being flawless or right for every context. Perfect #2 is about being the right fit, just as your shoes are the perfect size — for you.

I should admit that sometimes the idea of being perfect of the second kind doesn’t sit well with me. Inside, I harbor a deep-seated desire to be Perfect #1. Having perfectionist tendencies, I also struggle with taking things to extremes. Hence, it’s not surprising that I had a bout with an eating disorder in high school or that my penchant for systems and orderly processes sometimes makes me lack compassion or fail to appreciate the giftings of my more “creative” students who don’t follow directions carefully.

While the theme verse of Perfect #1 may be Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” these days I’m inspired to draw encouragement from the humbling truth for Perfect #2’s: 2 Cor 12:9: “...for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It’s in the context of my imperfections that God’s power is at work in me, bringing about perfection. Not merely a consolation prize, Perfect #2 has its own reward. Only cracked pots are privileged to experience what it feels like to be healed and sealed with strong glue. As with the Japanese art of Kintsukuroi, in which broken pottery is fixed by mending with a gold resin, sometimes the very areas of imperfection in our lives are the places meant for God to fill us with something of great value.

My daily bout with perfectionism is most obvious in my career. The pressure of teaching evaluations causes me to spend more time preparing for class than is good for my research program. The need to win grant funding to support my research program causes me to examine and re-examine each proposal in search of stray commas, periods, and incorrectly placed semi-colons. And I’m an obsessive compulsive list-maker. Now add to the mix my personal life: often it feels that spending time in one area is stealing from another. Working overtime naturally makes it difficult to be “present” enough to maintain strong relationships with those I love and whom God has placed in my life. And yet I still want it all. At least part of the problem is that it’s all about my effort. Perfect #1 drives me to an ungodly striving in self-sufficiency and trying to attain perfection in all areas, impossible as that is.

Someone once told me that the kingdom of God is all about opposites: the last becomes first, one gives to receive, extending faith brings assurance of salvation, the weak are strong. But conversion of the present, seemingly disadvantaged state into a future, advantaged opposite is not our work but the Lord’s: He elevates, He rewards, He saves, He perfects. Our lives were never meant to be lived apart from extreme reliance on God. While God calls (and enables) us to work excellently and for His glory, He also calls us to rest and abide in His presence. An openness to God, an acknowledgement that He is working all things for good even when they don’t look perfect, is the requisite posture of Perfect #2.

Recently, God has opened my eyes to how he uses my creative students to perfect me by giving me opportunities to “add to my faith” fruits of the Spirit like self-control and perseverance (2 Pet 1:6). As the Bible says, possessing these qualities in increasing measure will keep me from being ineffective and unproductive in my knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Truth be told, this sounds to me like the Perfect #1 ending!

About the Author

Audrey Bowden is a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University. Her research focuses on light-based technologies for medical imaging. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, watching movies, and is preparing for motherhood. 

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