Light Through the Cracks

As kids, many of us heard the words of Jesus, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” and mistook that to mean that God wouldn’t love us unless and until we were morally perfect. Not so. The original idea of perfection in the Hebrew mind was one of integration and wholeness, and had nothing to do with morality per se. So, then, God calls us to perfection of a different sort. What does God want from us? It’s not to be morally perfect, so when we do make mistakes, sin or make otherwise poor decisions, there is a need to repent, but there is no reason to dwell on the fact that we aren’t good enough or not measuring up. What if we took a different attitude about life? What if we came to see life as something that needs some experimenting, some experiencing and some learning? If that is the case—and I think it is—then being imperfect becomes a prerequisite. Our life might become much more joyful and interesting if we let go of our illusions about moral perfection and aspired instead to perfection of intention.
This does not mean that we don’t strive to do our very best and to make the best moral choices. We simply accept that there is no such thing as perfection in this life: all living things are in a constant state of movement, literally every part of us. While we are reading this reflection, for example, our hair continues to grow, our cells are dying and being reborn, and our blood is being pumped through our arteries. We may think of ourselves as being unchanging witnesses to the world around us, but in fact, nothing we were born with even exists anymore—not a single cell. Our life changes the more it seems to stay the same. Can we experience moments of perfection? Yes. But that doesn’t mean it will last because like everything else, it is an impermanent state. Trying to hold on to perfection (a perfect day, a perfect embrace, a perfect meal, etc…) or trying to forceably make something perfect recurr can only result in frustration, unhappiness and despair.
On some level, we understand this, yet so many of us are stuck in a crazy cycle of trying to be perfect in ways that are not meant to be. Parents want to be perfect role models for their kids; students want to be perfect in their academic discipline. Priests want to be perfect examples of every possible thing for their congregations and musicians want to consistently play their instruments on pitch and with perfect timbre. It’s just plain craziness! One way to nudge ourselves out of this tendency is to look at our lives and notice something that is, at first, shocking: no one—literally NO ONE–is judging us to see whether or not we are perfect. Sometimes, this perfectionism pathology is a holdover from our childhood, perhaps an ideal we inherited from a demanding parent who was obessed with her or his own imperfection. We are the adults now, and we have hopefully learned from our own parents and teachers and pastors enough to realize that we are always free to let go of the need to perform for someone else’s approval. Similarly, we can choose to experience God as a Loving Parent who cares less about our moral perfection than our willingness to align ourselves, albeit imperfectly, with God’s dream for humanity. Once we realize this, we can begin to take ourselves paradoxically less and more seriously: less obsessive about moral rectitude and more passionate about being the best human person we can be according to God’s dream for us. I submit that living this way is also a lot more fun! Imperfection is inherent to our being human; by embracing our imperfections, we embrace the truth about ourselves and the truth that God’s light is more likely to shine through the cracks of our imperfections than anywhere else.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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