What is the right way to live? It’s a big question with many possible answers. We have arrived at the final proverb in Ecclesiastes 7:15-8:8, proverbs in which the Teacher has been helping us make sense of our perplexing world.
I said in the previous post that the Teacher would answer the question, “If we don’t have to be perfect, then what should we do?” Now he is answering that question with his final proverb. The proverb here is that we should find the appropriate time and way to do things.
Here’s how Dorsey translates Ecclesiastes 8:5b-8: “The wise person knows the proper time and way to do things. 6 There is a proper time and way to do everything, despite the fact that life is difficult and uncertain. 7 A wise person cannot know what will happen to him, or when it will happen. 8 He has no authority over his own life-breath or when he will die. He cannot escape life’s battles; even wealth cannot protect him from them.”
But for those of us that struggle with perfectionism, what should we do? The Teacher would say, “Find balance. There is an appropriate way and time.”
As my wife has often said to me about my seminary papers: “Just turn it in as is. You don’t have to get an A.” Whew, that is hard for me to hear. It grates against me. But she’s right. No one is going to care if I got As on seminary papers. While it is not wrong to strive for excellence, we need to let perfectionism go. Sometimes we just have to turn in the paper as is. Steve Jobs famously said, “Real artists ship.” What he meant was that many people have lofty goals, but it is much better to be people who deliver.
I’ve been on church committees in which we can analyze and analyze and analyze an issue to death, trying hard to understand it perfectly, hoping to come up with the perfect solution. Inevitably, the discussion stalls, and we get frustrated, and an idea can get tabled for more discussion. Months go by, and we’re no further along.
This is evidence that we are succumbing to perfectionism.
There is certainly wisdom to patiently examining an issue, to giving time for prayer. We want to avoid the extremes of hastiness and perfectionism. That means seeking a balance, and then it means we need to deliver. We need to act. This is why I prefer the language of experimentation when our various committees and ministries in our church family make decisions or have new ideas. We need to be free to try things out, even to fail at them, because that is one helpful way we can learn.
So how about you? We heard a variety of proverbs in Ecclesiastes 7:15-8:8. Do you need to let go of perfectionism? Do you need to deal with sexual temptation? Pursue the wisdom that is found in living God’s way.