© by Rev. Alison Wilbur Eskildsen
My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents. Mahatma Gandhi
One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist. …Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist. Stephen Hawking
You are imperfect; permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful. Amy Bloom
Story: “Two Bad Bricks” by Anjahn Brahm, from Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?
Musical Celebration: “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen, sung by UUFA’s Chalice Choir
Kelli, Amber, Neil, and I painstakingly prepare for each week’s service. But this is a ‘live’ worship experience. So we make mistakes. You’ve seen me numerous times skip an element, only to be reminded of it by the worship assistant. Or I might misattribute a song or quote. Although we hope for a perfect service, we’re human.
None of us are perfect. As Leonard Cohen advises, “Forget your perfect offering” because we humans are not perfect. We are prone to make mistakes, we compare ourselves to others, and we desire perfection, to be free of flaws. But we, and our lives, are anything but perfect. It contains suffering, sadness, and loss. The times we’ve been hurt, disappointed, confused, or dismissed break our spirits, mar our surface, and create our cracks. As Cohen observes, “There is a crack in everything.” And if we expect our lives to be wonderfully perfect, we’ll only offer up our hearts, minds, and bodies for more cracks, because life inevitably falls short of our ideal. Fortunately, the cracks have value. They are signs of our living, feeling, striving. And, as Cohen perceives, “That’s how the light gets in.” More on that later.
Despite admitting nothing’s imperfect, too many of us strive for perfection. I’m guilty of thinking, “If I want it done right, I need to do it myself.” Sound familiar?
For me, this implies I don’t trust others to meet my standards. It means I believe the stakes are too high for good enough to be good enough for me or you.
Whether it’s the demands of my white culture or a Protestant work ethic, I want things to be perfect. I feel like doing something imperfectly reveals fatal flaws, and I don’t want anyone to see mine. Granted, the world may not collapse and I may not be sacked for falling short of perfection, nevertheless, my insecurities cause my perfectionism. I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote this reflection on imperfection to make it perfect. If Sunday morning hadn’t arrived, I might still be perfecting it!
Perfectionism’s peril is its cost: needless stress, misuse of time and energy, and lost opportunity. Being error-free is for gods and machines, not human beings. If I stopped trying to improve something that’s already good enough, I, and by example you, would have more time for friends and family. I might experience more joy by doing something I’m just okay at. And if I don’t give you a chance to try something new or make mistakes, you’ll never learn or improve. Nobody needs perfectionism’s stress.
Even if it were possible to reach perfection in our lives, upon reaching it, we’d eliminate future areas for personal or spiritual growth. We’d have no incentive to learn new things, master new skills, or find new solutions to old problems. After perfection, there’s no place else to go. That we’re not perfect gives our lives goals, purpose, and meaning.
But what if, instead of reluctantly accepting our imperfections, we loved our flaws and struggles? Cohen claims our cracks let the light in. Rather than hide or stuff the cracks, we need that light to come in. We need that spiritual light to make us whole.
By spiritual, I don’t necessarily mean God is the light, though for some ideas of God that’s appropriate. For me, this spiritual light is a metaphor for that ineffable force that heals our spirits, and adds a dimension of depth to our lives. This light lays bare our whole authentic self, all that we are. This light gently caresses, helping us feel and accept who we are.
When we see, feel, and accept our flaws, we can more easily accept other people’s faults and mistakes. This light opens our hearts to other people’s struggles. We become more empathetic. In return, we receive permission to be fallible, too. And being authentically human and whole to one another fosters deeper, more meaningful relationships. We relate to each other better. We’re more honest, more human.
The late physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking said, “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist. …Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.” (from Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, Discovery Channel, 2010) He’s saying, when things aren’t perfect, that’s a catalyst for change. For example, if the universe had been in a permanent status quo or steady state, the Big Bang would not have occurred. But somehow the universe wasn’t in balance and it exploded. Like a supergiant star acts today, when it burns up its fuel, it explodes or collapses, becoming something new. On a human scale, learning something new erases ignorance, and sparks explosions of creativity. Flaws and imperfections, even mistakes, give rise to new discoveries. The perfect is static. We should embrace the imperfect.
Loving our flaws, however, doesn’t mean we should be complacent about some imperfections. I need to let go of my perfectionist tendencies. I’d be happier and have more free time if I accepted good enough. While loving some, I can discern which flaws could be less imperfect.
The key is to be sure we’re listening to ourselves and not striving to fulfill someone else’s expectations or demand for perfection. Advertisers, for example, try to convince us our imperfections hold us back from love, success, and happiness. They focus on our insecurities, ignoring our many good qualities. They want us to be dissatisfied.
Just because an advertiser thinks we should have perfect complexions or wear the latest fashions, doesn’t mean we need to. Like the story’s brick wall builder, if I have a few bricks out of place I don’t need to break it all down. A few bricks, excess pounds, or gray hairs are signs of living. If we’re reasonably healthy, we’re good enough. We’re all flawed and all lovable. Perhaps our flaws enhance our lovability. Advertisers blind us to the many good qualities we each possess. Let’s embrace them, along with our flaws.
As we move into the holiday season, it would be wise to think twice about holding unrealistic expectations for a perfect holiday. The perfect family that loves one another, agrees with one another, or never acts out inappropriately doesn’t exist. Someone’s bound to burn the dinner rolls, give an unwanted present, or break a favorite ornament. Accept imperfection. For a happier holiday, and life, try this mantra: Good enough is good enough. Say it with me, “Good enough is good enough.”
To close I want to share a poem of liberation, titled “Perfection, Perfection” by Kilian McDonnell:
I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.
As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you
It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green
Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its
Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can’t be won, concedes the
I’ve handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo’s radiant David
the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is cracked.
Take the hint: enjoy your perfectly imperfect lives.
Questions for Reflection & Discussion
- What do you most appreciate about yourself? What compliment would you like to receive? Consider writing down your answers so you can read them when your perceived flaws need to be balanced against your gifts.
- At what level do you aim to complete tasks or projects: good enough, your best, or perfect? Share.
- What is more difficult: letting go of people’s high expectations for you, or accepting your own imperfections?