I started the cooking for last night's dinner about 5 hours ahead. My plan was that I'd cook ahead, have it all ready to reheat (aside from the steak, which my husband would be grilling), then shower and change into my little black dress and pearls. But as I worked, making up the carrot recipe as I went along, I kept thinking of another little special touch that would "make it all just right", so that I ended up touching up the reheated foods in my undies (because even in an apron, stuff jumps right at my nice clothes) just minutes before the company arrived--despite, or maybe because of, having three helpers and a serious intention of not going too crazy.
I had to ask myself "what constitutes perfect?" If I think of another little touch, an extra ingredient, a little twist, and don't do it, then is the result less than perfect? I know that stems from the whole Pauline idea that if we do not do what we know is good, we have sinned. A total paraphrase and gross misapplication but is it really so far removed from the fundy Modesty codes or the Pharisees’ Purity codes and other absurdities in the name of sanctified living?
And then, when we actually served the meal, the steaks were charred on the outside, overdone on the inside from appliance faults rather than operator error; the mashed potatoes too thin and the gravy too thick (almost the same consistency) from reheating problems that were operator error (mine); we ran out of wine; and the toppings for the cheesecake only glopped instead of drizzled. And everyone who ate thought it was absolutely the best food (well, except for my husband and me who both have these perfection issues). The guests ate it all up and asked for seconds.
So, by what standard do we measure perfection? The eaters' enjoyment? (Excellent.) How relaxed and peaceful the cook was while she produced the food (poor, but not at all the worst, at least I didn't fall to pieces or start crying this time). The comparison to how it would have turned out in a professionally equipped kitchen by, say, Bobby Flay? (As if...! But you know I made that judgment!) And is the ante really, fairly, upped every time I think of some extra finesse? (Absurd, when you think about it, but isn't that what we do all the time?)
It seems ridiculous to over-analyze a dinner party this way but the prep and presentation seems an apt metaphor for the striving for perfection that we Christians do, and are taught to do. Why is it so universal to teach the do-more-work-harder-feel-guilty model of Christian living but so rare to teach the rest-in-the-Lord-be-still-enjoy-the-simple-things model? Why do we let ourselves be consumed by the judgmental, perfection-seeking, always-something-holier-to-do, Pharisaical, conspicuous religiosity?