A Spirituality of Imperfection

So, you think you’re not good enough. You’re certain you’re too flawed, too messed up, and have made too many mistakes to ever be considered useful for God.

You said you really wanted help with that character flaw that keeps showing up at the most inopportune time. Like, I don’t know, when you cut and pasted a not-so-well-done image of yourself hugging a leper and posted it on your Churches Facebook page just before a committee was considering the recipient of their “Woman of the Year” Award!  What’s wrong with you?!

Well, guess what? In spite of all that baggage you carry, you are actually, no kidding, a saint in God’s eyes. So, you might as well suck it up and live like that’s your truth. I suppose the big question is, how do you even start believing that when the world tells you you’re as likely to be a saint as you are to birth an elephant? How about starting here – get over yourself!

Have you ever read the life stories of some of the most beloved saints?  I have. And I want to tell you, for a split second, I will think I have the tiniest microchance of being one of those impossible, messy, screwed-up humans that God will actually use. I know. Crazy huh?

Go ahead, google some of their stories. A few of my favorites are Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Esther (more about her later), and, now, the one I wish I was named after, Dorothy Day! She totally rocked the “lost and broken” definition of imperfection. Yet, as I write this, her case awaits the crowning achievement bestowed by the Catholic Church: “Sainthood”, where she would likely be defined as the Patron Saint of the most-impossible-screwed-up-humans-on-earth.

But don’t hold your breath, and don’t look for her statue to adorn your in-home shrine. Don’t hold out hope of having her pray for that impossible brother of yours. And don’t think for a minute she would ever want any of it anyway!

Let’s have a glimpse of her life before she was presented all shiny and cleaned up to the “sainthood committee”. Here it is in a nut-shell by Patricia Lefevere, “her cause for sainthood has been initiated even in the wake of a lifetime that included allegiance to the Communist party, affairs, an abortion, divorce, an out-of-wedlock birth, two suicide attempts and a youth colored by excessive drinking, chain-smoking, and a lurid vocabulary, as well as estrangement from her father and older brothers.The rumble in Dorothy Day’s soul still quakes 40 years after her death | National Catholic Reporter (ncronline.org)

And this by Jim Forest, “If Dorothy Day is ever canonized, she will be the patron saint not only of homeless people and those who try to care for them but also of people who lose their temper. Dorothy Day was certainly not without her rough edges.https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/dorothy-day-saint-and-troublemaker.html

And if that’s not enough, let me share some additional thoughts about everyone’s innate saintliness:

Richard Rohr: “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. Saints do not live in some other world….They live in the same world we do, and they show us that spirituality is intensely down-to-earth. We learn to love through frustration, disappointment, and failure. We learn through the seemingly trivial incidents of our daily lives.”

Brene Brown: “It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion, and connection.”

Jim Forest encapsulates her virtues that we can all aspire to: “She helped us understand a merciful life has many levels: There is hunger not only for food, but also for faith; not only for a place at the table, but also for a real welcome; not only for assistance, but also for listening; not only for kind words, but also for truthful words.”

I have no doubt God calls us all to serve “for such a time as this”, as my favorite heroine, Esther, says. But, we can’t seem to buy into her words at the end of her proclamation, “…and if I die, I die.” Oops. 

Her words have always spoken so profoundly to me. Esther was incredibly brave. She was willing to die for love of her people, just like the apostles after Jesus and the Holy Spirit instilled a brave heart in them: a boldness that surprised everyone around them. (Not bad for the kids who probably had their mothers check for monsters under the bed at night.) This was a boldness even they didn’t realize they had, when before, they ran and hid in fear! Beloved misfits – every one of them! 

But, I ask you to keep in mind that none of them expected God to intervene to save them or change their situation. We see it in so much of scripture: Daniel being tossed in the lion’s den, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in that whole blazing furnace incident (Daniel 3). (You can almost see them roasting marshmallows in there! Okay, maybe not). Anyway…

Today, we are called to that same bravery; to trust that he is right beside us, that our tears and heartache are his as well. He holds us and loves us through all of our trials. That will never change. That we can have certitude about.

Beyond that, we have to trust and cling to him even when he seems silent in our suffering. I know, that totally sucks and usually isn’t what we signed up for. Most of what happens in life, we will never understand this side of eternity. I have learned to be okay with that, and it has given me a great deal of peace along with a smidgeon of courage. Think mustard seed.

It can sorta feel like God’s performing a root canal on your heart. It hurts – A LOT – at first. But it’s often necessary for our healing. (Just an aside, I always took the coward’s way and opted out of root canal! No thanks, Just pull it, and I’ll be on my way. I now realize that if I do that anymore, I will soon be eating baby food! Have you ever eaten baby food? Yeah – that’s my point.)

So, let’s remember:

  • When the world seems to be falling apart, we tend to look down rather than up to a God who never falters.
  • When we lose hope and get swallowed up in the muck and mire of life, God reminds us of his steadfast promise to never leave us.
  • When we feel alone in our brokenness, God holds our trembling heart.
  • When the injustice of the world seems overwhelming, God calls us to boldness and courage to model a spirit of love that can infuse the hearts of those who are watching. And you can bet people are watching.

God needs you, all of you, even the broken parts, especially the broken parts that are more of a beacon of hope for others than the shiny parts we put on display. And you can relax. They’re not looking for a Savior. That job’s already taken.

And so…carry on warrior!

(Full disclosure: I stole that title from Brene’ Brown and highly recommend her book, titled the same!)