Around the time I graduated from college, my school released a report about the experience of women on campus. The report covered everything from campus safety to female faculty, but there was one finding I will never forget. The report described a culture in which women were “expected to achieve ‘effortless perfection’--perfection that entails being smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort.”
“Effortless perfection.” I know something about that.
My undergrad was a top tier school full of brilliant, beautiful people. I will always remember walking into the dining hall where tall, blonde, athletic looking women gathered their salads and floated off to class. They looked like they had it all. Their loveliness, their success, it all seemed so easy for them, so…effortless.
In our age of social media, “effortless perfection” is everywhere. For some people, it’s practically a brand. A friend of mine recently pointed out the many Instagram accounts preaching “grace,” while featuring flawless images. The kids always smile, the house is always stylish, the photos always so well lit. These women do so much, and without even breaking a sweat. The disconnect between their message of grace and their image of perfection is confusing, for sure.
“Effortless perfection” takes many different forms, but let me tell you about the one that has especially deflated me. Over the years, effortless perfection has haunted me with this particular lie: If your calling demands too much effort, then it must not be from God. If it’s messy or hard, if you struggle to find the “perfect” balance between family and using your gifts, if you’re insecure, or afraid, then you must be doing it wrong. You must not be cut out for it. Or, you must have heard God wrong.
This lie lurks behind the image of every successful leader, every pristine Instagram feed, and every woman with really great hair. Each image of “effortless perfection” stands like a judge over my own effort-full imperfection, declaring “failure” and “not good enough.”
If you’re like me, and you are tempted to believe the lies of effortless perfection, I want you to know one thing: effortless perfection is not a thing.
There is no such thing as effortless perfection. If you’ve ever tried to take a decent family photo, you KNOW this is true. For every beautiful photo on Instagram there are at least a dozen blurry, crazy-eyed throwaways. For every woman with perfectly styled beach waves, there are countless hours of YouTube tutorials. For every successful ministry leader, there are hours and hours of sacrifice and perseverance and leaps of faith.
Any effortless perfection we perceive in someone is an illusion. Most of the time, that “perfection” was slaved over.
However, there is another reason we know effortless perfection is not real. One day, we will experience true perfection—perfect union with God—but it will not be achieved effortlessly. That most perfect perfection comes not from the snap of God’s fingers, but His death on the cross. Jesus’ life and death is all the evidence we need that perfection—true perfection—is not effortless.
I recently heard a woman compare herself, and her life, to a duck. Above the surface, ducks appear serene as they glide across the water. However just below the surface, their little feet paddle at a frantic pace. I love this comparison because it names the incredible difference between appearance and reality in our world.
None of us is truly perfect, but even the people who seem so close to perfection, whose lives and appearance and accomplishments are so amazing all the time— none of it came without effort. Every bit of it was toiled over. Cried over. Even obsessed over.
Thankfully, God doesn’t call us to perfection. What He does call us to, is to follow Him. To use our gifts. To reflect His image. To witness to His Son. And not to stop, no matter how hard it gets.
Whoever God has called you to be, and whatever God has called you to do, it will take effort. It will be hard. Your hands will get dirty. You will probably have to take up a cross somewhere along the way. But doing hard things has never been a sign that you didn’t hear from God. Very often, it’s a sign that you did.