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When the Perfect Becomes the Enemy of the Good


A friend shared a story with me about shopping for a birthday present for his wife. He wasn’t sure what to buy for her. She dropped some subtle hints a few weeks before her birthday that failed to bring much clarity. Then she dropped some not so subtle hints and he ended up getting her something she liked. However, she subsequently indicated that she wasn’t altogether happy with her birthday because she had to connect the dots for him.

If he was really sensitive to her needs and paying attention to her life, she said, she wouldn’t have to provide clues for him. He responded in frustration by saying that he’s not a mind reader and that she was expecting too much. Because I was privy to the history and dynamics of their rocky marriage, and knew that she had more issues than a magazine stand, I said to him, “It sounds like the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

The roots of these unrealistic expectations go back to the early chapters of Genesis and can be better understood by consulting a biblical anthropology. We were created in Eden; we were created for heaven; the Preacher (Qoheleth) in Ecclesiastes says that “He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity in men’s mind[emphasis mine], yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Eccles. 3:11). C.S. Lewis cogently sums up the human condition:

The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.” A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

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