Perhaps this has happened to you. You are trying to master a skill that requires a great deal of practice—learning to hit a baseball comes to mind—and when you reach the moment you are so exhausted you don’t want to go on, someone says, “Remember, practice makes perfect.”
And then you imagine yourself in the stadium on game day—the crowd is cheering and the sun is high in the sky. As the ball comes streaking towards you, the tension mounts and you let go with a mighty swing—the mightiest you have ever swung. But instead of the crack of the ball against the bat, you hear the thwack of the ball being caught in the catcher’s mitt. “Strr-ike!” yells the umpire.
You need to get better daydreams.
“I’m no Bryce Harper,” you say grimly—reminding yourself (and those making comments on your swing) that no amount of practice is going to bring you to that level of perfection.
But that’s not really the point, is it? Because when you tell yourself “practice makes perfect” as part of the inner dialogue that is constantly going on in your brain, it makes great sense—perfect sense, even. “Practice makes perfect” is what we say when we set a goal that we believe we can attain, one that is driven by our own set of abilities, skills, and experiences. In that case, achieving perfection is a personal goal to become the individual that only you can be.
In the New Testament, Jesus talks about perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). But he is not saying, “Practice hard enough and you can be perfect like God is perfect.” The root Greek word that is translated “perfect” is “telios,” which really means “be suited for your own purpose.” Jesus is saying, “Be perfectly yourself as God is perfectly God.” Big difference.
That’s a call for me to listen to my inner dialogue and to focus on my own set of skills, my own calling, the fulfillment of my own purpose. That is the perfection I am called to.
Think about the things that are on your list to get done in the next few days. Imagine how much more effective you will be in taking care of that list by being “telios,” perfectly suited for your own purpose—and not distracted by trying to be someone else. Our challenge is to keep our eye on the things that we are best at, gifted at, the things that challenge us right in the center of our abilities and training and experience.
But I’d still like to swing at a baseball like Bryce Harper.