We recently bought a kit for a new backyard play set for our kids. Even months before my son's 3rd birthday, he was far too tall for the toddler play set we bought a couple of years ago from our neighbors, so we jumped at the chance to buy this bigger and better version when we found it at a very deep discount.
The first thing I learned in the process of putting the set together was that I have always drastically underestimated how much work they take to assemble. When I've seen them in stores, they've looked nice, but somehow my eyes never noticed how many screws, bolts, washers, and nuts they require. I knew I was in trouble when I opened the box and the directions said that even with 2-3 people, it would still take 12-14 hours to complete. I knew I was in double trouble when I realized the only person I had to help me was the same two-year-old for whom we bought the set, so any time he spent on the job would be more likely to increase the time remaining until the project's completion than it would be to help me finish.
Even if he didn't reduce the workload by much, I loved the time we spent outside together working on the play set. It was good for both of us. He wasn't stuck inside the house watching videos, and I loved having him with me, even though he asked on an average of every 3 minutes, "Is this how we build a playground, Dad?"
The second thing I learned in the process had to do with all of the mistakes I made in putting it together. There were close to a dozen times that I had pieces put together only to realize that I'd done it wrong and had to take the pieces apart and put them together again. A couple of times there had already been too much progress made before I realized my mistake and I had to improvise by putting some piece where it would be good enough, rather than where it was really supposed to go, or by drilling my own holes where the holes would have been if I had done things correctly.
In my younger days, I would have become pretty frustrated at those mistakes, but at this point in my life I've made enough of them to realize that the mistakes are part of the process of getting things right. I have a lot of ideas that have never gotten off of the ground because of the hesitancy brought on by the possibility of the mistakes that I would surely make along the way. And, the projects that have gotten off the ground have, as expected, been full of mistakes.
But here's the thing the play set taught me: which one of those types of projects ends up closer to perfection? Obviously, it's the type that gets done, mistakes included. This is because, even with the mistakes that have taken place, they can still end up perfectly serving their purpose.
This play set will always show the scars of the errors I made in its assembly. Holes are drilled in the wrong places, and some hardware doesn't match since I had to go out and get new pieces to make up for my mess-ups. But, in the end, the play set's purpose is that my kids and their friends will enjoy playing on it. Even with its misplaced holes and hardware, it can still fulfill that purpose to perfection.
Perhaps it's a very limited analogy, but this really helps me to make sense out of a God who knows our mistakes so well and who also says, "Be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect." I've made plenty of mistakes in the process of my own "construction," but my sincere hope is that there's still a very real way in which I can end up perfectly accomplishing my purpose.
If, 5-7 years from now, this play set is well-used and still standing, and it hasn't caused any child's serious injury, its entire existence will have been a complete success. And if, 60-70 years from now, the people who knew me best can honestly look back at the years of my life and say that I loved God and I loved people, that I had a living, vital relationship with God and passed it on to others... that's the perfection I'm aiming for.