Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perfection or Goodness?

I grew up in a culture of perfectionism - that is the way it was for my family in Christian Science. When Scripture says (in the first chapter of Genesis) that "God saw everything that He made, and it was very good," Christian Science (C.S.) takes that to mean perfection. And in the C.S. line of reasoning, anything that isn't perfect was not created by God. Oh, dear. This creates a tendency to intolerance, and to "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." I developed a perfectionism and self-criticism that I am still working to release, and I applied it to my character, my figure, my art and work, relationships and my environment.

It is extremely hard on people if you expect them to be perfect, because - though we are very good - no one is perfect. A perfectionist culture can lead to extremism, intolerance and cruelty, even in families - and certainly, in world events. Even cleaning house can become stressful, if you are striving for perfection; pet fur, falling leaves, pine needles and dust will always create imperfection on your newly washed & vaccummed surfaces.

What a relief it was to me to discover Richard Rohr's writings! They make sense of the world in which I live, and of my own imperfection. They show me that I am loved without conditions, in my present state of imperfection. I am (and you are, & they are) beloved as I am right now, in this place. Today's email from the Center for Action and Contemplation reads:
"We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it….
"If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection.

"It becomes sort of obvious once you say it out loud. In fact, I would say that the demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of the good. Perfection is a mathematical or divine concept, goodness is a beautiful human concept that includes us all."  - From Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
This week, I found (through a friend's recommendation - thank you, Diane!) a blog that has beautiful resonance with me and with this enjoyment of goodness over perfection. There is a link on my sidebar now, and it's called "This Beautiful Wound." Several of her postings were so great that I commented right away. The first one, back in the archives, speaks of her journey - and it describes mine, too, in a clear and simple, yet profound way. If you are on a spiritual journey that includes great loss (and it seems that most of them do), I encourage you to visit Mirabai's blog.
As I clean the house today, in anticipation of hosting my parents (they're home!) and Gregg's parents for dinner tonight, I am striving for goodness over perfection. I hope you will have a good day, too, knowing that you are beloved exactly as you are.
"The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
The LORD is faithful in all his words
and holy in all his works.
The LORD lifts up all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth." - Psalm 145


Allegra Smith said...

A long time ago, once I decided perfectionism wasn't for me and as you know our backgrounds are incredibly similar, I took this to heart and of course I included myself in the mix:

"Let go of control over others.(*myself included as I said)
Every unit of energy that we invest in changing others is subtracted doubly from our own lively energy. We may be controlling not so much to prevent bad things from happening as to prevent ourselves from feeling grief, anger or disappointment."

Without those, I may add, life would not be as rich and as complex as it is and we would all be poorer because of that. Pain brings compassion and empathy, mistakes teach humility and to make reparations to those we hurt, disappointment has brought me an awareness about not expecting what is unrealistic, so bring in my lack of perfection so I can take it by the hand and accept in others what I have learned to live with in myself.

karen gerstenberger said...

Yes. Amen! xoxoxo

deb colarossi said...

ah, Karen.
I am always so amazed at how you can write about such complicated things in just the perfect way.

and I was going to change the word perfect, because of course I get the irony :)

Mary Potts said...

Karen, I'm sorry you've felt the often overwhelming burden that the need for perfectionism brings. The deaths of our daughters and the resulting grief truly has been transformational in so many ways. Richard Rohr is a wise man and I'm glad you find comfort in his writings.
Thank you for referring me to "This Beautiful Wound" in your comment on my blog. "When faced with a spiritual meltdown: melt" was such a comfort to me. I will continue to follow MIrabai's blog as well.
Hugs to you.

Karen said...

such a "perfectly" timed post for me... I had an imperfect week, learned a lot, and am thanking R. Rohr for the validation. Loved the Bible passage too. Love you too!

Anonymous said...

Amen, amen, amen to this insightful post! Like Allegra (whose comment resonates deeply with me), I find that my needs for perfection and control seem to pair up. I wholeheartedly believe in God's love for all of us imperfect creatures. I don't think I've ever thought in the terms Allegra pointed out about the beneficial products of losing control and suffering the effects of various imperfections. I'm happy to have a new way to focus on this for myself and my daughters.

Karen B.

Kay said...

You will never get to perfection as long as there is pet fur. End of story! : )

But as far as perfection of character, we can struggle just as much trying to be better somehow, when God is the only one that can bring about His 'goodness' in us.