Random Lent Thought for Tuesday March 14th: ‘Don’t Make the Perfect the Enemy of the Possible’.

One of the principles I try to live by is ‘Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the possible’.

I’m particularly prone to do this, because temperamentally I’m INFP and so very idealistic. My tendency, then is to take on projects that are to big for me to accomplish, and then to feel guilty and beat myself up because I don’t accomplish them. This might be a prayer discipline, a diet plan, a project at work or in the diocese. I set myself up for failure because I aim at the ideal, at perfection, and when I can’t achieve that I abandon the project altogether, instead of asking the question ‘Is there a scaled-down version that is, in fact, possible for me?’

Years ago, I heard Bishop Tom Morgan tell a parable of a young Levite who was charged with keeping the fire in the temple courts burning. The Old Testament says that there should always be a flame burning before the Lord; it was just a small flame, really, but it was sustainable. This young Levite, however, thought that nothing but the best was good enough for Yahweh, so he decided to build a flame that heaven would take notice of. Of course, when the ancient Jerusalem fire brigade had to be called out to save the temple from burning down, he began to realise that he might have been making the perfect the enemy of the possible.

Does this ring any bells for you? Are there times when you’ve taken on some new spiritual discipline, but aimed unrealistically high, and then, when you couldn’t keep it up, abandoned it altogether, rather than asking if there was a slightly more modest version of it that would be more sustainable for you? Maybe you need to lean this maxim too: Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the possible.

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