The Perfect Relationship

neck and straightedgeWhen I am building a guitar I am striving for something that I know I will never achieve: perfection. That I will never achieve it has to do not only with my experience and skill level in guitar building, but in the very concept of “The Perfect Guitar.”

Every player has a different idea about what constitutes the perfect guitar. For some, the perfect guitar sound is loud and complex, with a bass that almost growls at you. For others, there is less complexity —each string sings it’s note strongly with few overtones—and there is a balance between the bass, midrange, and treble strings.

Some players like a chunky neck, and some a thin neck; some need a smaller body, and some love the feel of a large-bodied guitar against their torso. And all players, when buying a guitar, accept some compromises. Rare is the person who finds a guitar that fits them in every single way. That is why most players own more than one guitar, because sometimes a song requires a guitar that is strong in one aspect while another guitar is more suitable for a different song.

At least that’s what we tell our spouses when we are trying to justify the purchase of yet another guitar.

While I know that I will never achieve perfection when building a guitar, there are parts of the process that require a level of precision approaching perfection. The surface of the neck onto which the fingerboard will be glued must be perfectly flat or else there is a likelihood that the fingerboard will come loose after being under tremendous string tension for years.

So I plane and scrape and sand, repeatedly putting a metal straight edge on the surface to check for flatness. If the straight edge rocks at all, I know I have a hump that needs to be removed. It’s a painstaking process, and after an hour or so of scraping, checking, sanding, rechecking, sanding some more, rechecking again, I’m sometimes tempted to say, “It’s good enough.” But good enough isn’t good enough; excellent isn’t good enough. It has to be perfectly flat across the length, width, and even diagonal.

There are other parts of the build where perfection isn’t required. When I rout a groove in the middle of the neck to receive a metal rod that allows me to adjust the bow of the neck, I try to put it right in the center of the neck. I measure the center line very precisely and try to rout along this line. But if the groove is slightly off-center it’s OK—the truss rod will work just fine, and no one will see it since the fingerboard will cover it. Slightly off-center is good enough.

There are things in this life that are worth striving for perfection, some that are worth striving for excellence, some that are worth striving for good enough, and some that aren’t worth striving for at all.

It’s sorting everything out in the right categories that is the challenge.

I can’t say that I ever strove to be anything less than perfect when it came to being a father, although I must admit that I never thought about it in those terms. I wanted to be the best that I could be, and I knew my best would never be perfect.

The thing is, I don’t think Angela and Austin ever expected that from me either. I’m not sure it ever entered their minds. Relationships are like that; like the “perfect” guitar, perfection in relationships is a moving target, and being willing to live with some compromises is necessary. The alternative is continual frustration and dissatisfaction.

We need to take this attitude into our relationship with God. We each need to strive to be the best Christians we can be, realizing all the while that when we fall short of perfection, God cuts us some slack—a lot of slack, actually. And we need to cut ourselves the same slack as well.

But with a contrite heart. God doesn’t appreciate it when his slack-cutting is taken for granted, or when it leads to arrogance. And he really doesn’t appreciate it when we don’t cut others the same slack he gives us—or we give ourselves.

“The measure you give will be the measure you get.”  (Matthew 7:2)  Gulp.

God created us; he is our Father. We’re his children. While he might not mind having perfection, what he wants even more is a relationship, and no relationship is perfect.  It’s not even a good measure of a relationship.

So let’s get that out of our minds.  Let’s cut everybody some slack, and get on with building, relishing, and restoring relationships.

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