Monday, March 28, 2016

The Grace of Mistakes and the Curse of Perfectionism

“The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.”  
--Eugene Delacroix

Twenty seven years of serving Holy Communion to folks in the pews, and in that whole time not one major mistake or screw up on my part. Until a recent Sunday. And when I finally failed…boy, it was a doozy. 

The story. In my faith tradition, we take bread and grape juice in worship to remember the time Jesus did the same with his disciples. Not complicated. How hard can it be to pass around trays of bread and tiny glass cups filled with juice? That I do this in front of one hundred or more people does raise my angst a bit, makes me nervous. 

After all, I want it to be just perfect. I want me to be perfect.

Three metal trays stacked high on a table, each filled with 40 shot glass sized containers of dark purple juice. I balanced one tray on my hand, but then another tray began to slide off the table so I lunged to catch it. BIG MISTAKE! Grape juice splashed and sloshed EVERYWHERE, a magnificent magenta spray! On the floor. On my robe. Covering the face of one of my Deacons, an ocean of juice now dripping down her cheek.  But then a miracle. We quickly recovered and served. Few seemed to notice.

Me? I blushed, so embarrassed. Angry at myself for fouling up so publicly. Fearful I’d be called out for that oh so clumsy act. Imperfection 1. Me 0. Yet the sky did not collapse. The ritual remained sacred. The world did not end and those gracious Deacons gently joked with me afterwards, trying to get me to just laugh at that liturgical train wreck.

And then I finally remembered…I was human. I am human. Like every one else. Like every last person on earth. We imperfect beings. Mortal souls. Subject to all the laws of human behavior that teach imperfection is at the heart of the human condition. We are all hard wired to fail at some point, to not get it right. To do that which we are not supposed to do, or not do that we are supposed to do.  Just ask Adam and Eve.     

Try as hard as we might to always get it right and to never drop the ball still: we burn the toast and let slip some unkind words in conversation and then we regret it.  We commit to a diet and then secretly sneak Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey late at night.  We cut off a fellow driver in anger and colorfully curse them. We impatiently snap at our kids and forget to let the dog out, who then pees on the kitchen floor.  We get all pumped up for a big presentation at work and then leave all the slides at home.

We are human.

And yet if there is one lesson I’ve learned in almost three decades of listening as folks share with me the deepest longings and fears of their hearts, it is that far too many of us still demand perfection from ourselves. Still imagine and even believe in a God whom we think expects human perfection. Still allow the warped values of this world convince us that we are not good enough, no matter how hard we strive or try. 

The teenage girl convinced she’s not good enough because she is not as thin as the waif like supermodel in the magazine ad. And so she binge eats and then purges.  The overachieving student who is sure he is a failure because his first choice college sent him a rejection letter.  To him his life feels over.  The uber-successful suburbanite surrounded by so many outward signs of “success” but who is still so spiritually empty inside. But it all looks so perfect.    

So here’s one simple hope for all of us as imperfect humans in an imperfect world.  Go ahead and spill the grape juice, and then mop it up and wipe it up and try again.  Be as gentle with yourself as God is with you. Expect to fail and then learn from those lessons.  Ask for the best from your loved ones but when they fall short, and they often will, respond with compassion and good humor, not just judgment.  Seek progress, not perfection in yourself and others.  As one prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous says: “Dear God. You are God. I am not.  Thank God. Amen.”  Perfection is for God alone.   Imperfection is the lot of humanity.  And that’s ok.

So if you ever come to my church on a Sunday when we serve communion, my advice is to wear a raincoat.  Just in case.  After all, no one’s perfect. Right?






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