Matching the Chip
“God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love” (Psalm 103:8 MSG).
When a homeowner hired a man to paint her living room, she handed the painter a little paint chip and said, “I want the walls this same shade.”
He mixed paint and covered one wall with it, but she wasn’t satisfied. “It’s not a perfect match,” she explained.
He tried again. And again. After his fifth attempt, the woman continued to point to the chip. “You don’t have quite the same color.”
When he told a friend about it the following week, the friend asked, “Were you ever able to get the correct shade?”
“No. But she was okay after a long phone call to her mom.”
“You mean her mother convinced her that a perfect match wasn’t possible?”
“No,” said the painter. “While she was on the phone, I painted the chip.”
Often we perfectionists resort to “painting the chip” in order to present a flawless image to others. Perfection isn’t possible, but we learned early in life that the only nice thing about being imperfect is the joy it brings to others. One of my most vivid lessons on that subject took place when a Sunday-school teacher assigned me a “piece” to memorize for our holiday program.
Mom combed tangles from my never-cut locks. Then she washed my hair and rolled it up in little blue rubber curlers to dry over the next two days. She did that only twice a year—at Easter and Christmas. When the curlers came out on Sunday morning, I put on my best dress, and we left for church in the family Studebaker.
Not everyone in my class was so prim and proper. Fidgety Willard Jackson always seemed to be getting into one scrape after another. Even his first and last names were troublesome. They both sounded like surnames to me, and I had trouble remembering their proper order.
My strict upbringing had already taught me that if I followed rules, I had a better chance of escaping punishment. So, when the teacher stressed that we needed to deliver our pieces s-l-o-w-l-y, I paid attention.
The morning of the program, we all filed onto the platform. I proudly and loudly recited my holiday rhyme in a slow, measured cadence. My parents’ beaming faces assured me I had done a good job.
Then it was my high-strung classmate’s turn. He rattled off his piece so fast, it was unintelligible. To my surprise, the teacher didn’t correct the boy, so I turned toward the end of the line and said loudly enough for him to hear, “Slow down, Jackson!”
The audience erupted in laughter.
I wanted to die. Everyone’s laughing at me for getting his first and last names mixed up! I thought. I could only hope my gaffe would soon be forgotten. Instead, it became a Family Legend. I was in my fifties before I could even smile about it.
Many perfectionists who struggle with insecurity have been fettered by rigid rules and hammered by such Bible verses as Matthew 5:48 (NIV), “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Talk about an impossible goal! Some Bible scholars believe Jesus was saying that aiming for perfection is what’s important, even if we can never truly be perfect. Others, looking at the scriptural context, assert that the previous verses in Matthew 5 emphasize a Christian’s duty to love, so anyone who loves can be considered perfect. As a child, I knew nothing of those interpretations. All I knew was that in order to be acceptable, I couldn’t make mistakes.
Most perfectionistic Christians have difficulty understanding the true nature of God. We were taught to be on constant guard because the Almighty’s wrath was just a lightning bolt away.
Although I wasn’t worried that my comment to antsy Willard would make me miss heaven, I was humiliated by what I perceived to be everyone’s scorn and derision. I was ashamed because I’d failed to pull off a flawless performance. It took studying Scripture using correct principles of interpretation to see how loving, patient, and kind God really is. In fact, God knows better than we do that attaining perfection is impossible in this life. King David declared, “The Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13–14).
While it’s never fun to let others see our dusty side, we struggling perfectionists need to realize that we’re valuable individuals even when we miss the mark. The good news is, God doesn’t punish us for our fallibility. Instead, he makes up the difference when we trust in him. He also knows we don’t need reminders of every commandment and regulation. We’ve already got ’em memorized. What we need is grace.
Coming to understand the true definition of grace stops me from panicking whenever I end up a slightly different shade than the model paint chip. I’ve learned that the Master Painter will still make room for me in his palette.
Right there next to Jackson.
Compassionate Father, thank you for releasing me from the prison of persnicketiness and for your assurance that you won’t reject me when I fail to measure up to impossible standards of perfection. Amen.
Adapted from: 52 Heart Lifters for Difficult Times. Copyright © 2014 by Diana Savage. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.