Learning to Be Imperfect

When I was growing up, I learned a little song that I sang in a children’s play at church:

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect

The more that I practice, the better I’ll be

Over twenty-five years later, I still hear the song in my head on a regular basis.

My counselor called me “performance driven.” My friend, Cecille, calls me “detail-oriented.” Others aren’t so kind. Anal-retentive. High-strung. Obsessive.

Somehow, I understand that others aren’t perfect. I don’t expect them to be. I love them no matter how imperfect they are. But if I’m not perfect, I feel worthless. And the problem is that no matter how hard I try, I can’t be perfect.

Let me tell you a story you may have heard before.

Our high school’s marching band was an award-winning band and about an hour into my first day of band camp, I figured out why. Mr. Page—our highly skilled band direction—was a tyrant. He knew exactly what he wanted done and exactly how he wanted it accomplished. And we were going to practice it over and over and over again until we executed it flawlessly. We lined up, marched the formations, played all of our songs, and he would stalk up and down the rows of musicians, blowing his whistle, pointing his long finger, and barking orders. At the end of the day, we stood in formation, trembling with exhaustion, dripping with sweat, waiting for a small word of praise or a smile. But—nothing. He would blow his whistle and dismiss us with a wave of his hand.

After school started, we belonged to Mr. Page twice a day. Each day during second period, we would line up in parade lines and march around and around our small town, serenading the small businesses, stay-at-home mommies, and retirees. And each day when school ended, we would line up on the football field and march through our halftime show over and over again until finally Mr. Page would signal us to line up in parade lines. He marched us off the field and up the front driveway of the school. He signaled us to parade rest and then he would march up and down the lines to see who was out of line. All too often, I fell into that category. He would stand at the end of my line and bark: “Someone’s out of line here!” Our line would adjust and then we’d hear: “STILL out of line!” We would readjust and then we’d hear: “WHAT’S SO HARD ABOUT MAKING A STRAIGHT LINE?!” And we’d readjust until eventually, he’d walk away to correct another line. I’d grit my teeth and wish I could quit. But I’d never been a quitter and wasn’t going to start now.

At the end of that year, our high school closed. We had known it was coming. All of our county schools were consolidating into three new, bigger schools. The thought of a bigger band, full of people that I didn’t know was terrifying to me. And Mr. Page had announced that he wasn’t going to go teach at the new school, which meant we’d have a new director, too. It was all too much for me. I decided that it was time for me to quit.

I had always thought that Mr. Page didn’t like me. Or at least, I assumed that he didn’t care about me. I figured that to him I was just another kid to keep in line. But when he found out that I hadn’t signed up for band at the new school, he called me into his office. He invited me to sit down in the beat-up brown armchair and then he proceeded to lecture me about quitting the band. I don’t remember what he said that day—his words were cancelled out by the emotions that I felt. For the first time all year, I thought that just maybe, I was good enough. Just maybe, I had some talent.

My entire life, I have been a perfectionist. As hard on me as Mr. Page was, I have been infinitely harder on myself. I have to walk a straight line, perfectly in step and in the right formation. I try to hide in the back of the pack and not stand out. If I think I’m going to fail at something, I usually won’t even attempt it. And if I mess something up, I’ll spend hours or days reliving it in my mind, trying to figure out how I should have or could have done it better.

As young as Katie is, she says something I wish I could say:

I made peace with feeling inadequate because the truth is, I was. I still am; we all are. I quickly became okay with being imperfect. Throughout the Bible, God chose seemingly inadequate people to do His work. – Kisses from Katie

Every day my hope and my prayer is that the people who share my day will be better and happier because I was there. I want to be a blessing to them. To do His work. I struggle and I strain under a load that’s bigger than I was built to carry. And at the end of the day, I say, “God, why wasn’t I better, stronger, wiser…?” I expect to hear, “Try harder! Do more!” But that’s not what I hear. Instead, I hear, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out? Come to me. Get away with me. I’ll show you how to rest.” (Matthew 11:28 MSG, paraphrased)

I’m still working on making peace with my vast inadequacy. I’m slowly becoming okay with my inevitable imperfection. And I’m grateful for every day that God chooses me—inadequate and imperfect as I am—to do His work.

This post is part of a weekly discussion that a group of my friends and I are having on the book Kisses from Katie by Katie J. Davis. You don’t have to read the book to stick around for the discussions. Feel free to leave a comment and to check out the other responses that are linked on the widget below. And make sure to go by my co-facilitator’s place to see what Jason has to say on the chapter, too.

About Sarah Salter


  1. On our own, we are inadequate.

    In Him – For Him – We are more than able, because He is able.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Deal with it. You are just like the rest of us… woefully imperfect. ;-P

  2. I have nothing to add, really. As usual, your timely subject matter has touched my heart deeply. Somehow, the chapter you are reading usually coincides with some raw part of me I’ve been trying to gloss over. I don’t always comment, but I do read. Thank you, Sarah.

  3. I am with SarahBee on this, timely indeed. This is an issue I continue to struggle with, and like you, I let others off the hook but not myself. Embrace our imperfections, there are lessons to be learned there. Love you Sarah! Hugs!

  4. I can relate to the perfectionist mentality. God has been working on this issue in my life for a LONG time. I believe it will be a life long journey as this is a weakness of mine but praise God it keeps me humble and dependent upon Him!

  5. I have wasted so much time and energy trying to be ‘perfect’ on my own, but it always falls short. His holiness, righteousness, and even perfection is a gift that is expressed through our love and obedience to Him. Thanks Sarah.

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks so much for visiting and leaving comments, y’all! I appreciate them!

    Dusty, you win the comment prize for the day! You made me LAUGH! 🙂

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