Our Level Best

Let’s get one thing straight: Pursuing excellence isn’t about perfection—it’s about showing that we care.

When my husband and I married 16 years ago, we came from very different backgrounds. He’d spent most of his life in the same home, his surroundings largely unchanged. I, on the other hand, am the daughter of a retail manager and—like the children of military men—was used to putting my things in a box every two years. Moving on so my father could move up.

By the 12th new address, my family could strip a house, pack a truck, and do a final clean and patch job in under 10 hours. We were never sure if this was something we should be proud of or sorry for. And when we got to the rented house in the next town, we’d unload in much the same way—placing furniture and slapping pictures on walls at a pace that would make a NASCAR pit crew jealous.

 

But just because the work was done quickly didn’t mean it was done well. There were more than a few crooked photos in each house. Others were off-center. There were always a few extra nail holes. But it never really bothered us. Why should it? Anything on the wall would just be wrapped in newsprint and spirited away to a new town in 1,000 days.

Now that my husband and I have a home of our own, one we’ve lived in for nearly five years (and have no plans of leaving), I wish I could say my attention to the finer points of décor has improved. But sadly, I’m no different from the girl who hung posters of horses and boy bands at jaunty angles to save herself the trouble of measuring. My husband, however, is made of more methodical stuff. For him, every eighth of an inch matters, so putting things on the wall isn’t so much a chore as it is an ordeal. I honestly think the entire process is described somewhere in Leviticus.

First, the wall itself must be measured both vertically and horizontally. Then the frames are evaluated to make sure they’re placed the same distance from the floor, ceiling, and adjacent walls. Finally, he determines the distance between the top of the frames and their hooks to make sure they hang evenly. The space between each picture is accounted for. And if things are hung in a zigzag pattern, you can bet your Velvet Elvis that each piece will line up with the others—top to bottom and left to right. All this calculating is done before a single nail goes in the wall, and he rarely (if ever) has to hammer anything twice. Though this arduous process used to exasperate me beyond the capacity for rational thought, I have to admit I’ve come to appreciate his meticulousness.

No matter how hard we strive for perfection, we’ll always fall hopelessly short of the ideal, but that’s no reason for despair.

But, as my husband would admit, he could hang a gallery’s worth of art in our house, and there would still be mistakes everywhere. Fastidious though he may be, he (like all of us) is a finite, imperfect creature in a fallen world. What looks impeccable to our eyes can still be crooked, even if only by a fraction of a millimeter. Yet crooked it remains.

No matter how hard we strive for perfection, we will always trip at the finish line (if we even make it that far). We’ll always fall hopelessly short of the ideal, but that’s no reason for despair. Remember, we worship a risen Jesus who is “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). Christ wasn’t “somewhat” like God. He wasn’t merely “good enough for government work.” And He, just like the world He made, tells us something about His nature.

On the first six days described in Genesis, God called forth sky and space, light and land in a particular order. From corner to corner, this world is filled with things He designed for specific purposes and to operate in specific ways. That’s why—even in its broken state—our world is still a sight to behold. Everything from the intricate pattern of a snowflake to the sophisticated workings of a rainforest ecosystem points to God’s handiwork and the perfection to come. There is no approximation with Him, no half measures or bare minimums or that’s-good-enoughs. And because of this, we can live expectantly, with an eye on the eternal, and “hope for what we do not see” (Rom. 8:25). However, that doesn’t mean the here and now should be a slapdash affair, or that our lives are nothing more than temporary lean-tos. In the waiting, we can make the world more beautiful by focusing on the people and things in need of attention—yes, even picture frames—and giving them our level best.

 

Photography by Josh Meister

Related Topics:  Stewardship

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3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

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