Success: neither perfect nor good enough

by Jeff Hedglen

North Texas Catholic

8/27/2021

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You’ve probably heard a few variations on this phrase: “There are two kinds of people in this world.” Maybe the next part was Coke or Pepsi, morning person or night person, mountains or beach. The list goes on and on. Here’s one to add to the list: perfectionist or good enough.

I suppose there are pros and cons to both options. Perfectionists can do great work. But they can also fuss over the project until it is “just right” and thus the project might be late, or they are overly stressed because it is not perfect.

On the other hand, the “good enough” folks don’t always do perfect work, though it is often on time and done with less stress. But the quality of the work might suffer, which can stress the rest of the project members.

But when we look at the idea of perfection from the point of view of God, we see a totally different measure of success. Matthew’s Gospel says: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That seems a little daunting. How can we be as perfect as God?

On our own, we cannot. 1 John 4:12 gives us a hint: “If we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us,” and this is backed up by St. Paul: “And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14).

So, we see here that perfection is found in love and we can only accomplish this by loving one another so that God will remain in us. Furthermore, living in love is how we attain perfection in God’s eyes.

One clarification is needed. When the Bible speaks of love, it is not talking about the love I have for pizza, or the love I have for a friend, or the love I have for my wife. It is talking about unconditional, self-sacrificial love. Love defined like this: Wanting a good for another and being willing to do what it takes to make that good come about.

This kind of love is other-focused. It is not selfish; rather it is selfless. It is a love that requires sacrifice. This is not the love seen in a Hallmark movie or found in popular music. This is love that is ultimately beyond our own power. To achieve this kind of love, we need to be connected to, dependent on, surrendered to, and fully offered to God.

God is the model of this love. He gave His Son, and this Son gave His life for us. An additional model for us is the mother of Jesus. Mary did not waiver in doing her part to prepare her son to fulfill His mission.

It might seem like this kind of love is unattainable. The models are divine, and the woman is “full of grace.” But there are hundreds more models in the lives of the saints. Saints are fully human, just like us. But their pursuit of this perfect love is why they are now called saints.

The definition of success plays a lot into our ability to achieve this kind of love. If our success is based on worldly accomplishments, perfectionism, number of tasks completed, or our bank account, we may miss the mark on sacrificial love. But if we redefine success we might have a chance.

Years ago, I encountered a quote by Dr. Ralph Martin that has shaped my understanding of success. It is something I come back to time and time again to help me stay focused. It goes like this: Life is very, very short. Only one thing is necessary. Only one thing really determines if our life is a success or a failure. It is the choice to follow Jesus and be faithful to His word, or not.

This measure of success doesn’t depend on us being perfect or good enough, rather it relies on our choice to follow and trust in Jesus’ mercy along the way.

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You’ve probably heard a few variations on this phrase: “There are two kinds of people in this world.”

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