Imperfection and I have had a rocky relationship. For years, I pretended she didn’t even exist. When she showed up unexpectedly, I dressed her up in different clothes and tried to pass her off as someone else. I recognized, eventually, that she was actually a roommate I despised. And in more recent years, I’ve been trying to be reconciled to my sister. Imperfection has gifts I need, and she has been much more gracious with me than I deserve.
In the last couple of months, imperfection moved into our new life with us, taking the biggest room in the new house. She spills out of every closet, reveals herself in my parenting, pops into my office. I recognize her faster than I used to, as my cheeks get warm and my stomach sinks to familiar twist. Where I used to push her away, I have learned to thank her for coming and ask her what she has to teach me.
Welcoming imperfection works better, but it still feels pretty awful. I want to be able to do everything (very) well, the first time; this is an unrealistic expectation that destroys my joy if I do not set it down. It takes considerable and repeated practice for me to feel the discomfort and allow it to show me another way.
So I sit down in the evening with my knitting to let the day’s worries be stitched into mittens and socks for people I love. Of course, imperfection emerged in the intricate pattern of stitches. Why wouldn’t she?
At first I didn’t understand what the pattern was saying, even though I had knit it before. I set the cuff up wrong and had to pull it out. Once I got going, my tension wasn’t as even as I hoped. When I finished the right one, I discovered that I had read the pattern backwards and it was actually a left mitten. (So I had to knit the other one backwards too!)
I was laughing about this with some knitting friends, and one of them wisely reminded me, “Don’t worry about it, Leah. It will all come out in the wash.” While there are some mistakes in knitting that you can fix as you go, there are others that are smoothed out only when the project is finished. Wetting and then drying the mitten will set the yarn in its new shape, having an effect that the knitters hands just cannot influence.
I heard Imperfection laughing with me. Her laugh sounds so much like God’s grace.
I love to be prepared. Read ahead, ask for direction, make a plan. Still, there are things I cannot know until I start. I am doing a lot of new things these days, in addition to the mittens. Mistakes are inevitable. Some of them I recognize and correct right away. Others I do not see until someone else points them out. We can change course on the next round, and some will have to be worked out in the wash.
Laundry has never been my favourite chore. I prefer the short, if messier, instant gratification of cleaning toilets. But God doesn’t seem to mind the repetition and multi-stage process. I get to put on the different clothes of my various call, make a mess of them trying to do what has been asked, wash, and repeat. It really does not matter if each sock is perfectly matched or each shirt folded in just the right way. The laundry serves the living.
Imperfection has this same heart. She invites me to stop fixating on each and every stitch and step so that I can enter into the whole experience. My desire to be of service, to lend my effort to others, to try again is worth far more that whether or not I get it right the first time. More than the perfect, I want the peace that comes after the knot in my stomach. These fresh days in a new place are Easter days, full of all the confusion, learning, and hope that comes with new life. When I finish the mittens, I look with a measure of awe at what the mittens have become with me and beyond me. I want to look at this season of my life with that same appreciation for Imperfection.