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Pursuing Perfection

I cannot say for certain where I first learned of this story, but I think it was a guy I dated in high school who was of Persian descent.

He took me to an authentic Persian restaurant in Los Angeles, and over dinner, he told me the story of the “Persian Flaw”. Muslim rug makers in the Persian Empire would intentionally weave a mistake in the pattern of each rug because of their belief that only Allah and his creation are perfect. Now if you like to overthink things as I sometimes do, slipping down the philosophical rabbit hole, perhaps the following thoughts have occurred to you:

If the singular flaw is intentionally placed, isn’t the work still perfect, albeit perfectly imperfect? And if the Creator’s creation is perfect, but you purposefully place an imperfection in it, does that negate His perfection? You’re probably shaking your head now, so I’ll leave those types of thoughts to Doug Adams a la the Babel fish and switch gears to the Christian approach to perfection.

The above interesting tale came to the forefront of my mind during a Bible study when we reflected on the words of Christ in Matthew’s Gospel,

“So be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Instead of purposefully placing intentional mistakes in our work to acknowledge how unlike God we are, with these words Christ demands we remember in who’s image we were created, calling us to strive to follow God’s example.

But there is an inherent danger for us in striving to achieve perfection in our work, and these dangers are pointed out in the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva.

First, we must be sure that our pursuit of perfection is in our actions of work and not the final product of our work. A perfectionist sees the external product as an end in itself. But that is not the perfection we are called to attain. Instead, as Christians we are called to work perfectly.

“St. Josemaria taught, sanctifying our ordinary work requires doing the work itself well, aiming to do it as perfectly as possible, and fulfilling all our professional and social obligations. It requires working conscientiously, responsibly, lovingly and perseveringly, without negligence or sloppiness.” (from the Opus Dei website)

Second, the perfectionist runs the risk of reading the words, “Be perfect” as “do everything perfectly”, and when they fail to do so, become fearful that they have disappointed God. This fear of disappointment leads to sadness and it stems with the wrong idea that it is a perfection of results, and not work itself, to which we are called. (from the Opus Dei website)

In truth, analyzing this passage from Matthew out of its Biblical context, makes misinterpretation or misunderstanding of perfection likely. But by considering it in light of the fact that it is a part of the Sermon on the Mount, concluding his words on love of enemies, we are being asked by Christ to love perfectly as God loves perfectly. It is not the end result of our work that should be perfect in itself, but the work we put into completing it done with perfect love. 

So perhaps the “Persian flaw” is actually a beautiful reflection of St. Josemaria’s teachings on work and perfection.

The rug maker’s intentional mistake ensures that the perfectionist’s “perfect product” is unattainable. The work that goes into making a perfectly imperfect rug must necessarily be conscientious, responsible, loving, and persevering, without negligence or sloppiness. And the intent of that flaw, to recognize the absolute perfection of the Creator and His creation, necessarily means that the entire work is done with God always in mind.

While much of our work can’t afford intentional mistakes as a homage to our Lord, doing our work with perfect love for Him and all, is perfectly achievable.

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Elizabeth Jara

Elizabeth is part-time home schooler, part-time Youth Group and Confirmation director, and full-time wife and mom of 5.

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