When entering a supermarket store on Saturday I was greeted with a banner telling me that shopping there would make this Christmas “the most perfect ever”. This desire for perfect conditions is necessary when we are young, in order to allow the development of a stable self. As the English psychoanalyst Winnicott said, “the mind has a root in the need of the individual, at the core of the self, for a perfect environment”. However, as the child grows, its capacity to live with a less than perfect environment develops and the mother just has to be “good enough” in an ongoing committed relationship rather than being perfect in every instance. And it is the same for us as adults.
Our lives are always a work in progress, with moments of failing followed by repairing, integration mixed with disintegration. Despite what we sometimes think and express from time to time, we don’t really need perfection. We push ourselves hard enough due to that false belief. That things go wrong – despite our best efforts – is just part of the human condition. What we really want is to be seen as we are – not completely sorted out – and for that to be good enough.
It’s odd in a way, this business of Perfect Christmasses. The story of the first Christmas is the story of a series of completely unplanned, messy events – a surprise pregnancy, an unexpected journey that’s got to be made, a complete muddle over the hotel accommodation when you get there… Not exactly a perfect holiday.
But it tells us something really vital. We try to plan all this stuff and stay in charge, and too often (especially with advertisers singing in our ears the whole time) we think that unless we can cook the perfect dinner, organise the perfect Christmas, we somehow don’t really count or we can’t hold our heads up. But in the complete mess of the first Christmas, God says, ‘Don’t worry – I’m not going to wait until you’ve got everything sorted out perfectly before I get involved with you. I’m already there for you in the middle of it all, and if you just let yourself lean on me a bit instead of trying to make yourself and everything around you perfect by your own efforts, everyone will feel a little more of my love flowing’.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2.