Have you ever heard a voice in your head that is hard to ignore and lets you know that something is up. The voice that says something is missing in your life or that things could be better? Well if you have, it means not only that you are part of the human race, but serves as a reminder that something is up and going on within.
Such a voice can mean a variety of things. It can mean that God is trying to get our attention. That we are not using our gifts to their potential or that our lives are out of balance in some way. That we need to get healthy through what we eat and how we exercise. That we need to work on communicating with other people more effectively or constructively. That we need to spend more time with our children or aging parents. That we have some unresolved stuff going on inside. It might even mean we would benefit from some therapy to work through some painful issue or struggle.
But when we hear that voice in our head that tells us that something is missing, we had better pay careful attention and be very cautious before taking action, because acting on such a feeling without checking it out can get us into a heap of trouble. You see, sometimes when we feel that something is missing, there really is nothing missing at all. Sometimes we feel this way because we have caught a very nasty bug. And this bug will lead us astray and mess us up if we are not attentive. This bug has a name. Perfectionism.
A quick caveat before continuing. Having goals, seeking higher standards, going after success, striving for financial security, desiring to be more healthy, wanting more of something in some area of life are obviously not necessarily bad things and may not reflect perfectionism. Such things may simply reflect we are motivated and reflect our knowledge we need to work on something to bring about a positive change. And I hope we each are motivated in various areas of our daily lives. But motivation and positive change is not what I am talking about.
With this caveat in mind, however, I do believe that some of the times when we think that something is missing in life it is because we are consumed by perfectionism in some area of our life. We think we are not making enough money. We feel like our current partner is not the right one. We live in a bad climate and are certain that life in a warmer one would be naturally better. We begin to blame others or ourselves and then we act.
We switch jobs to make more money, change partners to obtain greater bliss, or move to the warmer place expecting that 15 degrees will make all the difference. But often when we are in the new job, infatuated with the new partner, or basking in the sun, we discover that the nagging feeling that something is missing is still with us. And the perfection seeking cycle repeats itself again and again.
As a result, take classes, read books, and chat with friends in the exercise class looking for ways to fix what seems out of whack, and our search continues. And I believe that when we think something is missing, it may very well be the call to not change a thing, but rather to give others and ourselves a break and simply accept who and what we are. Sometimes when we believe we are falling short in some way, it really means we need to lighten up. Brennan Manning in his book the “Ragamuffin Gospel,” says, “The trouble with our ideals is that if we live up to all of them, we become impossible to live with.”
Then there is another person who wrote, “We are not perfect, but neither is there anyone out there more perfect than we are. What a pleasure this realization is. We are not more and no less than wonderfully ordinary, imperfect mortals. So why not give [others] and ourselves a break? Why not celebrate our blemishes, our imperfections, as the very qualities that make us human?…We all have a fault line, and usually one with many branches…Instead of apologizing, we can choose to enjoy ourselves just as we are, no upgrades necessary.”
But there is another problem with perfectionism with other troubling consequences. When we seek perfection, we not only diminish others, and ourselves, but we end up closing the door in God’s face. When we go for perfection, we stop looking for God, because who needs God when we believe that ultimate power and perfection is to be found within.
When we seek our own perfection, we become blinded to what God can do in our lives, and cease entertaining the idea that God at times does amazingly new and creative things in unpredictable new ways.
I love what Brennan Manning writes. He said, ““When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’”
He goes onto write, “While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift.”
One person who came to understand all of this was St. Paul. Paul was born into a Jewish family. He was sent to a famous rabbinical school in Jerusalem. He was immersed in the deep study of scripture. By the year 35, Paul was a self-righteous Pharisee and he was rabidly anti-Christian. Paul’s mission in life was to eliminate and punish his fellow Jews who were followers of Jesus. But one day Paul met the Risen Jesus and everything changed.
Paul then knew first hand that life is not about our perfection, but about God’s. He was clear that faith has less to do with getting it right and everything to do with God’s grace. Paul also understood that when people strive for perfection, it inhibits them from accepting their own weaknesses and their need for a power greater than themselves. Self-prescribed perfect people don’t understand the need for a savior.
And what often upset people about Paul, was when he told the people that if they would stop taking themselves so seriously, they might just start taking God more seriously.
Growing up in the desert Southwest, I was exposed to lots of Native American literature, art, and rugs. The Navajos are fascinating people and one of the most interesting characteristics of Navajos is that they frequently did not complete things, whether it was a basket, a blanket, a song, or a story. It is not because they were lazy, it was because they never wanted anything to be too perfect.
If something was too close ended or perfect, they believed it cramped the spirit of the creator and sapped the energy of life away. When Navajos created anything, they often would leave little gaps or imperfections in their work. To them, perfection was suffocation.
It is amazing what Navajos did when they made beautiful blankets. When creating them, they frequently left a slight imperfection in the weaving. Often this took the form of a single thread that originated from the center of the blanket and extended all the way to the edge. The Navajos called this imperfection in their blankets a spirit thread or spirit outlet. They believed such a thread gives the creator room to breathe and to create and serves as a reminder that only God is perfect.
Perhaps that is how God designed us. Beautiful, yet imperfect. And maybe God made us this way so that we would have room for Him. Room for Him to act in our lives. Room to create, to transform, to guide, to lead, and to heal. Room not so much for predictability, but surprise.
Maybe He created us as beautiful, yet imperfect beings so that we would hopefully come to the place that we realize that we need a savior. And maybe He created us as beautiful, yet imperfect so that we would learn to give other people a break and to lighten up with our expectations.
As I wrap up today, I’d like to invite us each to do something. And that is anytime we hear a voice in our head telling us that something is missing, perhaps we can pause for a moment and think about the fact that you and I both are like a Navajo blanket. Beautiful, yet imperfect, just as God made us.
Like those blankets, we too have a spirit thread coming from the center of who we are. A thread that reminds us not only of who we are, but who it is that put us together. I pray that that that thread, our imperfections, help us remember that Jesus Christ is not finished with us yet, nor anyone else who annoys us with their imperfections.
And let us all remember as Brennan Manning wrote, “Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.”