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Oct 28 2012

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On my desire to be perfect.

In my less aware moments, in moments of worry and hurry and desire for acceptance, I feel sometimes like I need to be perfect.

In the past couple of years there have been many of these moments – through the normal trying for jobs and memberships but most of all through the process of discernment. Trying for the religious life. Every time I come to a door and knock, I meet new people and answer their questions, and I feel on display and I know I am judged, and I worry. Who among you hasn’t felt this? I sit up sometimes, afterwards, and in my mind go over what I’ve done, what I’ve said, how I’ve said it, and I second-guess myself. Did I say something I shouldn’t, didn’t what I should? Did I sound more certain about things than I really was? Or maybe less? Am I irreparably flawed? Not good enough? If they could only know, if they would only give me a chance – really – to show them, to tell them, to explain… And I find ways to express myself so much more eloquent and precise than those my interlocutors got to hear… Who among you hasn’t done this?

These are the moments when I feel like there is pressure upon me to be perfect. But here’s the thing: I am not perfect. And here’s a more important thing: I am not intended to be perfect. Only to be the best of what I am. Who among you doesn’t know this?

When I worry about what others think of me, it is because I understand the reality of perception: others see me, and they think me better than I am, and they think me worse than I am. This happens because others don’t know the breadth of me, don’t know the context of my actions, and often observe me out of sequence, out of pattern, even out of character. We do this to each other: watching an act of kindness, we judge the person kind; watching the same person in a tactless moment, we judge him insensitive or rude, and the patterns we create of each other are limited to actions. We generalize. These others who watch me even with most benevolent hearts, even for long periods of time, don’t know my private little moments. My hidden secrets. My ups and downs. Others don’t know me. And so they think me better than I am, and they think me worse than I am.

And then, I see myself – and I think myself better than I am, and I think myself worse than I am. Because I do know the breadth of me, the patterns, the reasons and justifications for everything I do. Every time I miss the mark I understand why I have, and it is easy to excuse because I have a reason. But every time I miss the mark I know that I’ve missed it, and it’s impossible to excuse this many. I am privy to the heights of love and the abyss of penance that I travel, to the beauty of my creations and nobility of my aspirations. And I am privy to my every failed intention for lack of effort, my every lie and every cruel word.

Still. Do I really know myself? I am plunged into this or that extreme of self-judgment, and I am often oblivious to my own impact on the world around me. I don’t really know the depth of me. I don’t know my subconscious thought. I don’t even remember all that I have done, my memory both full of gaps and colored by later perceptions. I don’t know me. And so I think me better than I am, and I think me worse than I am.

God alone knows me for who I really am. What I am. How and why I am. It is a thought, always present at some back nook of my mind, that tends to surface when I am worried – at those times when I feel nervous, exposed, and judged, threading every word of the preceding day through dry and twitching lips. This thought floats to the surface and calms it like a hush, like a plush embrace, and I rest in Him. Whatever outcome will be, it says, will be all right. Because it’s not about being good, it’s about being true. If you’re true to yourself, you’re true to Him in Whom you rest, and true to Him is good. You can lose every battle, it says, and every place you call home, and even people you love, and it will be all right, because you will never lose Him. You are never alone.

He alone knows the whole and the part, the context and the reasons, my private little moments and their infinite ripples through the universe. And it is only alone with Him that all the waves on the surface of my being calm and settle, and the beautiful silence descends. It is when I close my eyes and raise my face to Him and loose my hands and whisper that all these things, whatever I am, the good and the bad and the confused, the best, the unique, all that I am is for Him, here, His only and forever in the fullness of my being—“Take me as I am,” I whisper—only then am I truly at peace with myself. Then, when my heart is all open and my Love is smiling and I never can know what He can see inside me but I know He accepts what I give—then I don’t worry. I have no need to be perfect. Only to be what I am. The best of what I am.

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2 comments

  1. Sister Ann Marie

    An interview for a unit of clinical pastoral education is unlike any job interview you’ll ever go on. The candidate is not expected to be perfect, polished and pulled-together for CPE. If they are, they will be poked and prodded for what they are hiding, even from themselves. In the Unit of CPE I just completed, which was my first one, it was filled with moments of raw vulnerability, of reckoning with my woundedness and weaknesses as well as my strengths and skills, of struggling not to judge or throwing anything away as “useless here, now,” of accepting all things that make me ME – even the hard and bitter parts of life – as part of the total human person that I am and am becoming. It was through my wounds and imperfections that I encountered Christ in the patients I visited, and, once in a while, glimpsed the Christ within my own life.

    “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Romans 5:20
    “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:8-9

    A priest I once confessed to said to me that in the passage “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” the word “perfect” is better translated from the original language as “compassionate.” And what better place to begin, than being compassionate with ourselves during our less-than-perfect moments, accepting what God has given us and made us to be in humility, trust and love. Then the power of God’s love and grace transform us.

    Thanks for a wonderful post that THIS perfectionist can appreciate.

    SAM

    1. River Adams

      Indeed. I remember hearing a CPE unit graduate talk about the sometimes uncomfortable sharing he had to do because one must understand his own emotional landscape before trying to help others. You seem to be saying this as well — there is no “com-passion” without “passion.” To co-suffer, one must know what it means to suffer. Our own experience of imperfection, vulnerability, and forgiveness enables us to help others with theirs. Right?
      I much admire those who go through CPE, like you, and are strong enough not only to learn what they must but to face themselves in such a public setting. Perhaps, I can do this too one day.
      I must in good conscience admit, though, as an addendum to this essay written in October, that this past weekend, for the first time, I knocked on a door in discernment and stayed for a while to feel the life of a community and to ask questions and be asked, and I felt many things and was asked many questions, to some of which I had not yet answers, but one thing I did not feel: judged. I did not feel the need to be perfect.
      Thank you, Sister, for adding a perspective to my thoughts and for your kind words.

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