08 Aug

Perfectionism is the enemy of efficiency

“An old adage says that ‘the best is the enemy of the good.’ The meaning is that a person who is never content with anything less than perfection may end up accomplishing little or nothing. A psychologist probably would rephrase the maxim to read, ‘Perfectionism is the enemy of efficiency.’

We need to be able to say, ‘It is good enough’

There is a fable of the sculptor who having carved a fine statue, was dissatisfied with his work. He made one more cut with his chisel. This necessitated another cut, and this in turn still another. Gradually the statue diminished in size until finally it had disappeared, with nothing left but a pile of stone fragments.

Whether we are carving a statue, writing a book, arranging a business deal or scrubbing a floor, there must come a time when we say, ‘It is good enough,’ and get on to something else.

We are never ‘good enough’ as far as our spiritual growth is concerned

This principle has an application in our spiritual lives. It is true that we never are ‘good enough’ as far as our spiritual growth is concerned. Since Jesus has set for us the ideal to ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,’ we never may establish a lower goal for ourselves. However, we can and must learn to be content to be as good as we can be today.

Sanctity is the art of the possible

Sanctity, like diplomacy, is the art of the possible. A saint is above all a realist. He does not waste valuable time and energy in dreaming of great things which he may do for God tomorrow or next year when circumstances may be more propitious. He concentrates on doing the little things which he can do for God today and under the circumstances in which he presently finds himself.

The late President Kennedy, in one of his speeches, quoted the proverb that a long journey begins with the first step. That is something which we must learn, we who are far from sainthood but who do have good will. A parent may say, for example, ‘I wish that I had more time for spiritual reading and prayer. I am sure that when my family is raised I can be a much better Christian.

That, of course, is nonsense. The busiest parent (and non-parent, too) can be just as good today, in proportion to his opportunities and circumstances, as he can [at a later stage]. All too often we use the promise of our future imagined goodness to excuse ourselves from present effort.

Today matters

Five minutes of daily spiritual reading now will be more pleasing to God than the hoped-for hour twenty years from now. A periodic and fervent, ‘My God, I love You,’ during today’s hectic rush will mean more to God (and to self) than hypothetical hours of contemplation in later leisure years. One or two less cigarettes or drinks today will be more spiritually profitable than a projected complete abstinence ‘when I’m not under so much tension.’

Proceeding to do it

With some of us it may be a form of perfectionism; with others it may be simple procrastination – this making of future imagined greatness an excuse for neglecting the lesser but real possibilities of the present. Whichever it is, perfectionism or procrastination, we shall have made a long step towards heaven when we have learned to be content to do what we can do for God today – and proceed to do it.

God is well aware of all the limitations which surround us

Whatever the present circumstances of our life may be, we have not come to those circumstances by accident. Unless we have involved ourselves in an adverse situation by our own sin, we know that our present status is God’s will for us. It cannot be, either from His viewpoint or from the viewpoint of of our own ultimate best interests, an hour unfavourable environment. It is the environment in which we can and must grow in holiness.

We shall do so by making use of whatever small opportunities each day may offer. Above all we shall do so by accepting whatever limitations our state in life, our work and responsibilities may place upon us. God is well aware of all the limitations which surround us. He asks only that we do for Him what we can – today. 

– Fr. Leo J. Trese, One Step Enough, 1966


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