Our world is fascinated with perfection.
Look around and you can see it. People striving to look perfect. People trying to do their work perfectly so they can get a raise or an “A” in a class. Others striving to give the perfect pitch in order to be on a television show or a guest on a podcast. Others straining to deliver the perfect athletic performance in order to win a competition or set a new record in achievement. And others laboring to craft the perfect phrase, perfect come back or perfect joke.
Admit it. We all want to be perfect–or at least perfect at something.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? We all know intuitively that we are not perfect–at least not completely, so we strive to be perfect in some area of our life so as to satisfy that longing for perfection that is buried deep within each and every one of us.
Where does this insatiable longing, this almost maddeningly desire, to be perfect come from?
It rises from the depths of our truest self that is buried deep in our minds and hearts and souls. Our truest self that knows and desires to be perfect not just in something, but in all things.
And if we are being really honest with ourselves, we know it springs from our longing to be in complete union with the One who is perfect–God.
This is what is known in spiritual parlance, particularly in the Catholic Church, as the “Call to Holiness.”
This call to holiness is rooted in Jesus’ instruction that we are to become “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), as well as our baptismal promises to be priest, prophets and kings who proclaim the Good News to the world that sin, darkness and death have been vanquished and we are destined for eternal life with our Heavenly Father who loves us beyond measure.
The call to holiness is not some sanitized, superficial version of who we are and can be. Rather, it is the embodiment of the essence of the fullness of our humanity. Or to use the words of Saint Irenaeus from the 2nd century, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
And our journey through this world is to become fully alive and to live in this out in such a way that there is no doubt that there is a God who loves us and desires for us to live with Him for all eternity and to be perfect as He is perfect.
To live life fully alive for the greater glory of God is the WHY of my life.
My WHY is what motivates me. It is what I focus upon each day. It is what I long for every night, thirst for every day, and is the air that I long to breathe. Striving for perfection is the very foundation upon which I structure my life.
Yet, in spite of all of my efforts, I am not most definitely not perfect.
I just have to look back at the course of my day to see how much and how often I failed to be perfect. How I failed to be merciful. How I failed to love. Of how I spoke harsh words or sat in judgement. Of how my work–my writing, my speaking, my coaching, my parenting, my friendship, my exercise, my eating, etc. etc. etc. is not even close to being the best that I am capable–let alone being perfect.
So, why bother? What’s the whole point of trying to be perfect if I know that I am imperfect?
Well, that’s actually is the point.
The whole point of striving to be perfect is to come face to face with the reality that you aren’t. For it is only when staring this reality in the face that we are truly free to make the choice that we all must make in this life.
The choice of whether we say yes or no to the paradox that is the pathway to perfection.
If we say no, then we will continue to do the things that we can do, to do things according to our power and capabilities, and as history shows us, will inevitably result in a never-ending cycle of frustration, failure and unsatisfied longing that leads to anxiety, discouragement and despair.
But if we say yes, then we will attempt things that we think we are unable to do, that are currently beyond our capabilities, and which lead us to discover wonder upon wonder as we experience purpose, peace and abundance in which every desire is satisfied and where we are transformed into new creations who are capable of telling a mountain to uproot itself up and move to the sea.
This is the paradox of the perfection of imperfection. This is the paradox in which we are invited to live.
The paradox where “in our weaknesses we are made strong.”
The paradox where it is my very imperfection that brings about the perfection of God’s plan for my own life, the lives of all those around me, and the entire world.
We but have to SAY YES, and the possibilities of perfection through imperfection await.
And this is how I can struggle to be perfect while knowing that I am an imperfect person without losing hope.
I have chosen my answer.
What will yours be?
This post was inspired by the OSV Innovation Talk by Doug Tooke entitled, “The Perfection of Imperfection.” OSV Talks is a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new, or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the church. You can find all the talks at www.osvtalks.com.
Christina Semmens is a Roman Catholic author, speaker, and coach and host of the Say Yes to Holiness podcast. She currently lives in Fort Payne, Alabama where she strives to live out a life of authentic discipleship in the pursuit of holiness while empowering, teaching and accompanying others in striving to do the same.
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