Once, Rabbi Moshe of Kobryn raised his eyes heavenward and cried, "Angel! Angel! it is no great feat to exist as an angel in the heavens! You don't have to eat, drink, bear children, and earn money to support them. Come down to earth and wear yourself out eating, drinking, raising children and earning money. We'll see if you stay an angel. If you succeed, you will be able to boast!" (From Martin Buber's Tales of the Chasidim)
We are told--or perhaps we simply believe--that we ought to be angels. That our behavior, our experiences, our work, our children, our marriages, our relationships, our Judaism, our skin, our waistlines, all should be perfect in some way. That perfection is the goal--or better than perfection (hence the mathematically impossible 'giving 110% effort'). When we err or go astray, we measure ourselves against that platonic ideal cooked up in our heads (or perhaps placed there along the way) of how it was all supposed to be.
We are no angels. Nor would we choose to be. Angels lack free will. Angels can only ever do what they are told. Yes, free will means struggle, but also growth. We, shaped in God's image, are the ones that grow and learn--from our successes, but also our failures. We get distracted, we focus on the wrong thing, we get tired, and then we go astray. And then we have a choice: to course correct and get back on track, or to strive for perfection.
I recently read a meme that said something like "may your life be as good as your Facebook feed looks". What would it mean for us to stop presenting perfection to the world, and owned our flaws? What would it mean to admit that we weren't angels, and to praise God and the holiness in each other--including the holy brokenness in each other--with all our hearts? Would we find the knot in our backs gone, the brow unfurrowed? Might we love ourselves and each other a little more? Would we give ourselves the room to learn rather than paper over with that perfect Instagram image of our lives?
Ours is the greatest feat: to strive for holiness amid all the distractions of our day and age. And if we can do that, perhaps it is we who have reason to boast.