Her name was Beth and she came from New York City. I was particularly pleased that she liked me because I'd never had a friend from New York before. New York may as well have been Mars when I considered the difference between it and South Carolina. More than miles apart, we were like two different worlds. I'd never seen a subway. Beth had been mugged several times as she traveled on one. My community was small and close-knit. Beth hardly knew her family. Her voice was coarse and she was tough, outspoken. I was timid and quiet. Our seats in nursing class were arranged alphabetically so Beth was my neighbor,
We had already completed our prerequisites and the competition was fierce. My prayers to be accepted into the class were answered. Now I prayed that I would be able to retain the information that was presented and pass the course. The lectures, memorization, clinicals and labs tested our commitment daily. Fully half of the class failed out before the completion of the course. The stress of intense study time at home, long hours in class and training at the hospitals contributed to quite a few student divorces.
Fortunately for me, I have always been good at two crucial requirements here; taking notes and passing tests. The shorthand I had taken eons ago served me well and often fellow students requested to borrow my notes. They made the same request of Beth, but she never let her notes out of her sight.
Even if I had not been previously exposed to the material on a test, by the wording of the question, I could usually discern the correct answer. These skills served me well and I maintained my position among the top 5 students in the class. Beth was right there with me. I was thrilled to make an 90 or above on a test; Beth was dismayed if she made less than 100. She seldom scored less than a 98 on any exam but her inner voice screamed “failure!” if she fell short of a perfect score.
She was the envy of many students who struggled to maintain a passing GPA. Numerous attempts to congratulate her soon turned into disbelief. “I'd give my right arm to make a 98!” an incredulous fellow student would proclaim. “How can you be disappointed with that?”
Beth would moan that she should have known the answer to the question she missed. “How could I have missed that? I can't believe how stupid I was. Its right there before me, I even underlined it in my notes!”
As you may have guessed by now, my perfect friend was indeed a perfectionist. When this term came up in our psychology class, everyone tried not to look at Beth. She never discussed whether her parents had held her to an unusually high standard. Beth, though a bit uptight, was friendly and kind, helpful to everyone and no-one sought to embarrass her. We thought perhaps she would seek the teacher out after class and ask how she could find relief from this thought process. But nothing changed. Beth continued to absorb and parrot back the material we were taught.
At the end of a grueling several years, Beth graduated at the top of our nursing class. Her scores were nearly perfect. But she never worked one single day as a nurse. Her fear of making a mistake, of not being capable of doing everything completely perfect, every single time, paralyzed her.
When I began working as a nurse, I found there was so much more to learn on the job. Sure, the concepts and guidelines were uniform but the area you chose to work in had its own unique practices. There was always much to learn and the world of medicine is constantly being updated as new research is applied. Poor Beth would never have been able to adjust to such changes. It was sobering to realize that THE KNOWLEDGE SHE HAD WAS WORTHLESS WITHOUT THE ABILITY TO APPLY IT.
Sometimes I am challenged by this concept as I think of my Christian life. Having a Masters Degree in Theology, continuing to attend Bible studies and listen to sermons seems to be routine. But do I walk out what I know with those I come in contact with? Does having the knowledge that Jesus cures all ills benefit those around me? Am I applying what I know? Better yet, am I sharing the One I know?
It doesn't matter much to me what “grade” I get from fellow believers. Rather, my desire is to apply what I have learned to a world in need. Unlike Beth, I can't allow the knowledge that I won't always make the perfect move or have the perfect word to say to keep me from trying. My Father loves me perfectly and that's all the perfection I need.