The Elusive Ideal

images 33When you think about your situation in life, is it easy for you to tick off all the things you wish were different? It is for me. And when you look elsewhere, do you only see the good parts? The greener grass?

You’re looking at an illusion. Nothing is perfect. Everything has its good points and its not-so-good points. If something looks ideal from afar, that’s because you’re not close enough to spot the crab grass. The septic tank underneath it.

So why do we often expect, even demand, perfection? Why do we become quickly disappointed when anything slips off its pedestal of idealness? We demand ideal careers. Ideal mates. Ideal lives.

Spring means one thing to me and that’s graduation. For twelve years now, I’ve helped make commencements happen. I’ve said good-bye to students in mortarboard caps who’ve become embedded in my heart and are now moving on. Hoping to move up.images 56

They dream big. They strive to create an ideal life. They want to set the world on fire. I’ve certainly nudged enough young people in that direction. I’ve quoted Frederick Buechner to them: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

And perhaps God is calling some of them to help meet needs on a global level, at least for a season. But maybe we need to shrink our world. If your deep gladness meets just one person’s deep hunger, isn’t that a good thing?

This year, I’m copying Helen Keller in my graduation cards instead: “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

Rather than clamor after the elusive extraordinary, maybe we should look for the beauty in a quiet life. An ordinary life. Because that’s what most of us will find. Something south of stupendous. But still full of wonder.

I struggle with living a small ordinary life. I miss the adrenaline-producing days of ministry in Eastern Europe. Quiet isn’t exciting. And as someone born with an artist’s soul, I’m often frustrated that I’ve held it prisoner all these years while it longs for expression. Oh, in little ways it has shone through the crevices, but it’s never enough. Like a toddler resisting sleep, my creative side struggles for a time, then passes out from sheer exhaustion. And gives up.

Didn’t God create me to reflect His own heart? As Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame said: “When I run (or write or teach or paint or help people), I feel His pleasure.” Yes, to be a good steward, I need to seek to cultivate that part of me. But not so He’ll be pleased with me. He can’t possibly love me any more than He already does. If I develop the gifts He gave me, I’m the one who’ll be more pleased.

I need to not give up, but also to not expect the extraordinary. To not demand the ideal. Simply doing what God gives me to do, each new day, is a way to praise Him. Being creative, even when no one’s watching, is worship. I find joy in living my small, quiet life.

imagesI1LXTLUSWhen we look longingly toward what we perceive to be ideal, we miss the lush green grass at our own feet. The Shepherd says, “Look to Me. Don’t let your desire for what you don’t have rob you of the joy for what I’ve given you.”

 

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