Habit #5: Joyful people pursue progress, not perfection.

I have a goal. It is to do one regulation push-up. One.

I was inspired to this goal by Olivia Perez-Breland who posted one day on Facebook that she’d accomplished the feat without actually meaning to. Sprogress-not-perfection2he was in the gym doing modified push-ups, when she noticed how easy it had become for her. So after ten or so, she decided to try a regulation push-up and sure enough, she could do it. In fact, she did several.

I thought, well … if she can, I can. Never mind the fact that she’s 20 years younger than me; let’s do this! I started focusing on modified push-ups and made them part of my daily work-out. I kept it up, and over time I noticed I could do more than when I first started. It was getting easier. I made it a goal to be able to do one regulation push-up by the end of the year, and I  worked on that goal for months.

Because I was writing a message at the time on the habits of joyful people — one of which is an ability to focus on progress not perfection — I wanted so badly to make one push-up happen before the Sunday of said message. I wanted to be able to end my message by showing my pueople how a focus on progress (not perfection) yields results. I wanted to be able to tell this story of working toward something for months, then end with the remarkable news that I’d met my goal. “See! I did it! The repetition of a discipline yields results!”

And then, I even fantasized about dropping and giving them one.

All for Jesus, of course.

It didn’t happen.

After months of trying — not even one!  That was months ago. Some time after that, I finally made one push-up. One. And for about a week after I finally accomplished a push-up, I was able to do it whenever I tried. But since then, I’ve somehow backslidden and am on my knees again (I could probably make a whole ‘nuther sermon out of that one sentence).

I may not ever accomplish a series of regulation push-ups, but what I can do today is twenty more modified push-ups than I could do a year ago. Which means that even if I’m not where I want to be, at least I’m not where I was.

Which is the point.

Progress, not perfection, drills into a deeper well of joy.

What places in your spiritual life could you point to and say, “I’m not where I want to be, but at least I’m not where I was”? And what disciplines are helping you get there? In what places are you frustrating yourself by focusing more on perfection than on simply making progress? How would a shift toward making progress help you better understand and embrace the concept of grace? How might it increase your capacity for joy?

(This post was first published on my old blog site, firestones, in November of 2014. I still haven’t returned to an ability to do a regulation push-up.  But I’m making progress …)

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

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