Learning from Imperfection

Flickr Credit: Sangudo
Flickr Credit: Sangudo

This past Sunday we talked about imperfection and the importance of being average and ordinary. Jesus’ work in Galilee reveals his desire to “build an alliance of backwards people” or as another person put it, Jesus worked to create the “fellowship of the disqualified.” We put so much pressure on ourselves and others to be perfect, successful, to look beautiful, keep up certain appearances, that we avoid our own imperfections to painful consequences. This avoidance is not only dangerous for our spiritual lives, it keeps us from being fully present to others in their weakness.

I think of the Lord’s Prayer which says:

And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

This is an important reminder embedded within the memory of the church, through one of it’s central prayers, that we are indeed susceptible to and prone towards temptation, weakness, and falling into trial. This is a confessionary act reminding us of our necessary reliance on God’s love and guidance, rather than our own straining towards perfection.

When you are average it is easier to just go and do what needs done. You don’t mind asking for help. You know that mistakes happen and that you can learn from them. It’s okay to look awkward. You find it more important to be there, to show up and try, than to get it all right the first time.

There’s a story about the Oregon poet William Stafford along these lines. Stafford was known to wake up at 4am every morning to write poetry. He saw it as “breaking off pieces of his life and turning them into poems.” In his life he wrote somewhere around 22,000 poems. Do you know how many were published? 3,000.

Radical Presence” author Mary Rose O’Reilly writes about this that:

“Somebody said to him, ‘But surely you can’t write a good poem every day, Bill. What happens then? ‘Oh,’ he said,  ‘then I lower my standards’” (quoted in Patricia Madson’s Improv Wisdom).

I love this. It’s like trying High Jump for the first time. You don’t start with the bar at 5 feet. You start with something lower and continue to work on it. Maybe the bar barely raises, but part of the thrill is just learning how to clear the bar!

Often our idea of perfection or being successful or unique paralyzes us from moving in areas we may feel strongly about or called to. I am less likely to do something if I think that I won’t do well at it or might fail.

But what is failure? Are there ways in which I might begin redefining my expectations and outlook?

And what if instead of trying to constantly achieve, I welcome the average and ordinary. Not every word I write, post I share, or speech I deliver has to – or ever will – be perfect. I wasn’t called to be perfect. I was called to be who God has made me to be.

For me personally, I have stopped trying to preach “world changing” sermons each week. It was an expectation that I couldn’t meet and it constantly left me feeling overly stressed about this part of my job. I have decided that an average sermon is good enough. This has made a difference in how I feel about my work.

Stafford also wrote:

“It is important that awake people be awake.”

I believe it’s much easier to be awake and embrace the gift of who God has made us to be when we are not constantly straining under the pressure of perfection.


What can you learn from your relationship to your imperfections?