There is an old axiom in our church that you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. While these words are often used when activities and plans were not as successful as one had hoped, I think they can also be applied to our lives as Christians. All too often I think we use perfection as our model for the Christian life, and when we fail to live up to that standard we feel bad about ourselves and may give up trying to do better and be better.
I don’t believe that is a good way to operate. What I would suggest instead is that we use “growth,” not “perfection,” as the model for our lives as Christians. By this I mean that we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: “Am I growing in my spiritual life? Am I a better person today than I was a year ago, or five years ago or ten years ago?” I think these are the key questions for anyone who takes their spiritual life seriously. If we can see growth occurring in our spiritual lives, we know we are on the right track.
Now this does not mean that our spiritual lives are always on the ascendancy. Rather I would guess that for most of us our spiritual lives look a little bit like the stock market. There are ups and downs, but there is also a “trend line” that marks continual improvement. It is easy to become somewhat discouraged when we are experiencing a down period in our spiritual lives. This feeling is worsened, I believe, when we use “perfection” as the model for the Christian life. When we use “growth” as the model, though, while occasionally we can still become discouraged, we also know that as there have been, so there will continue to be peaks in our spiritual life—times when our prayer is good and we feel close to God.
It would be great if there were never any lulls or lows in our spiritual life. Over the years, though, in talking with a variety of people, I have come to realize that the lulls and lows are part of everyone’s spiritual life. (There may be some exceptions to this, but I suspect there aren’t many. Even the great saints had some low spots on their spiritual journey.) If we can accept the lulls and lows as simply part of the spiritual journey, I believe we will be less apt to give up trying to do better and be better, and more apt to hang in there and keep trying.
Continuing to grow in our spiritual lives isn’t always easy and at times can be frustrating. The challenge is to take the long view and see where growth has taken place and continues to take place in our spiritual lives. Certainly there may be ups and downs, but I’m willing to bet that for all of us there is a “trend line” that reminds us that the effort is well worth it.