Election season is in full swing and the candidates of both parties are set to vie for our loyalty. And while the most vocal of fans are ardent followers of the candidates, many profess that both political parties have their faults, with little that inspires support or anything resembling devotion. We don’t like imperfect options, and voting can feel like the worst kind of compromise.

Beyond the political arena, feeling dissatisfied with one’s choices is a relatively common experience, one that only gets worse, the more options we have available. Social scientist Barry Schwartz calls this “the paradox of choice”: “As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.” The greater the cost of our choice the heavier the burden we feel to get it right. Buying cereal? That’s easy enough. Buying a house? Less so.

The plethora of possible choices, I’d add, creates the illusion that the perfect option ideally suited to you is available. If preschool taught me anything, it’s that you’re supposed to have a favorite color, food, cereal, book, and movie. And if you look hard enough, you can find the perfect NYC pizza, the perfect apple, or the perfect beach.

Of course, I’m not just talking about politics, food, or vacation spots. Many believe their spouse should be their soulmate: that unique someone who checks all the boxes and feels like a perfect fit for who we are. If that fantasy dissolves and marital bliss feels more like routine, it raises questions about whether we chose poorly. Along the very same lines, we might attend a church that fulfills a lengthy list of essential prerequisites before we began calling it our spiritual home. You started attending during a sermon series on Romans. It was wonderful — even life-giving — but three years later the preacher is getting a little too political and this home starts feeling more like a pit stop.

We might not expect perfection in ourselves — we are merely human — but the greater the cost, the more we tend to be scrupulous with what we give ourselves to. We’re not fickle; we just know what we want. Our time and devotion are investments with personal cost and we don’t want to bet on the wrong horse or throw away our shot.

Talking about the search for perfection during a global pandemic, when life as we know it has been so fundamentally disrupted, may seem like the least of our worries. But it is precisely when our most cherished beliefs are threatened and utterly impossible that they should be reevaluated. When life was normal, catering to our precise expectations seemed both attainable and laudable. But on the other side of the pandemic, our present suffering (to varying degrees) reveals just how needless such pursuits really were.

While the abundance of alternatives might inhibit our decision-making, the expectation of perfection dooms the whole enterprise. We probably withhold our proverbial votes out of fear of disappointment or an honest desire for the best outcome, but the very idealized hopes we hold ensure the disappointments we fear will come to fruition. Why would you ever settle for second-best when the ideal is within reach? Better to hold out just a little bit longer; perhaps something better will come along.

I’m always struck by how careless Jesus was when it came to choosing his disciples. The scales with which we measure perfection are not God’s. He didn’t seem to have any strategy, and the stories look a little haphazard in retrospect. He didn’t have an HR department, background checks, or any vetting process to speak of. He didn’t thoroughly scan the hills of Galilee to find the best candidates or ask an algorithm for the best matches. The twelve simply seemed to have the fortune of being in the right place at the right time.

The ideal disciple didn’t exist, so really anyone would fit the bill. When these followers began to second guess Jesus or openly complain about his decisions, it didn’t seem to bother Jesus. He knew what he was getting, of course.

Amid a multitude of possibilities, we tend to believe our choices exist on a spectrum of perfection, somewhere between inadequate and ideal, wisdom and foolishness. We calculate and strategize. But the measure we use is the same by which we will be measured (Lk 6:38). If you ever find that perfect pizza slice, the line to order is ridiculously long. The perfect home is out of your price range. If you do find your ideal soulmate, they won’t give you a second date. If the perfect church does exist, its doors are locked and you don’t know the password.

The economy of grace does not simply fill up what is lacking, or compensate for our imperfections. It upends the very notion of perfection and the standards by which we measure. Grace is indiscriminate in ways that look imprudent and reckless. God just isn’t hung up on perfection the way we are. To him all options are imperfect, if not risky. But in his hands, the imperfect becomes something else altogether. His workings might look like happenstance, but they’re never an accident.