I'm grateful we don't need it first before we can be happy. That those around us don't need it first before they can help us, give us sound advice.
We strive for perfection; in so many ways it is our object of existence. The perfect grades. The perfect body. The perfect bank account. The perfect job. The perfect man (or woman). The perfect family. The perfect friends. The perfect personality. Indeed, the perfect life.
Often its pursuit harrows us. Discourages us. Enervates us. We feel we don't measure up, can't measure up, don't want to measure up, will never measure up; that we don't have what it takes (but what everyone else seems to have in abundance) to achieve what is our best and what is the best for us.
At times the depth of our own imperfection sucks at us, and we wonder if we have the strength to pull ourselves out of this personal pool of quicksand, this whirlpool of waste. Or if we even want to make the effort required for emerging.
Then we lift our eyes and realize—yet again—what we can be...what we feel we should be. Want to be. Need to be. Cannot help but be. If only we'd get motivated enough.
And again the crusade starts.
Often we can't achieve it; not here; not now; not "ever" (as we term the pinprick expanse of this existence). Our weaknesses continue to press us, cling strength-sapping at our shoes as we strain for perfection in this or that, our focus fixed on that ever just-out-of-reach goal straight ahead and up. We plod. We sink. We kneel. Sometimes we settle.
Others seem to pass us, making great strides forward and up. As we watch them we wonder why the bog has no effect on them; we have it so hard. Worse, we might wonder what they think of us, slouching in the mud on this path they seem to find pristine and breezy. After all (and this is counterintuitive) they're not perfect either.
Can they see the faults that seem to encrust us? It's not like we can hide the dirt from them, though we make great use of proverbial fig leaves in our attempts. In our minds we see where and whom we need, ought, desire to be. Always ahead. Always up. But sometimes our legs just don't want to move.
Have you ever felt like this? About anything? Maybe not all at once but a slow accumulation of different facets of it over the years. We strive for it because we believe it is expected of us. God, regardless of His name, form or existence in culture, expects it of us. After all, He achieved it.
That's one of the reasons we get discouraged; we feel if we're not making progress, fast enough or at all, we're not good enough. For Him. For everyone else who received the injunction from Him (meaning everyone else) and seems to be doing just fine with it. For us. We feel like a miserable misfit. Defective. We don't deserve the happiness we long for because we can't keep our
unreachable part of the bargain.
God is perfect. Sometimes infuriatingly so. And despite our best efforts, that's the only perfection this world will "ever" see. He has the perfect personality, the perfect job, the perfect power, the perfect life; someday He'll have the perfect family (see? He's still striving too).
But he also has something else: perfect love.
It's what makes Him God. And He’s let us in on a little secret: that’s what the object of our existence should be. Love. Love for Him. For ourselves (yes, indeed). For others.
Which is funny, because it seems that’s the quality that is the most counterintuitive to us; the most unreachable of all the perfection goals we could conceive. For ourselves, it is a quality we depend upon. Perfect love. Mercy. It comes for us when we feel (rightfully or otherwise) that we least deserve it, sometimes when we are least capable of returning it or paying it forward. Covered in proverbial swampslime, we are still loved. It’s eucatastrophic.
Yet this kind of perfect love is the quality we least of all understand. Because its focus does not lie ahead and up, but all around us too. In that swamp we're trying so feverishly to motor through.
Its focus is the people in there with us.
God loves spinning wheels as much as those with super-duty tread. But just as He loves us in our most pathetic moments, He loves everyone else pathetic (and that means everyone else). And He expects us to as well.
We don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Or to love. Or to hope. Or to be happy. Or to be right, even. But we especially don’t need to be perfect to give help and hope and happiness to those around us, to help them find right too. That is what is expected of us.
In fact, it is our very imperfection that makes us valuable to each other.
I talked for a long while last night with a person who (even he admits) struggled in life; and still does. But as my own problems surfaced in the conversation, he rejoined with experiences and lessons learned from his own strugglings, his own imperfections. I drank them in. These were lessons I needed to hear. Lessons that renewed my resolve to kick free of quagmire. They were perfect.
And that’s counterintuitive too.
We've experienced this. Someone else’s imperfections turn out to be our providences. They lift us, weary-legged, to new movement. Often they inspire us to stride a little farther than we thought (previously) we were capable of doing. Because not only has God done it, but someone on our own plane has too. And that someone believes we can succeed. Someone stopped long enough in his own slogging to look around (instead of solely up) and notice someone else who needed help. Help he could give.
That’s the object of our existence. It’s not about how fast we make it to the finish line or how clean our clothes and hair and shoes are when we get there. It’s not about how well we controlled our own breathing and frustration when we knew other people were passing us or close on us heels, noticing us. Everyone stumbles, at some point; swamps don’t discriminate. It’s not about perfectly making it to perfection.
It’s about the number of people we help during the slogging.
If, in our course to what is perfect, we stop looking up so much—at the unreachable goal, at the heads of those surpassing us—and thus down so much (at ourselves), looking instead around us, we may notice someone sunk even deeper than we (if such could be imagined), sunk in a place we’ve only just been stuck in and come out of (often with another’s help). Someone who is actually within our reach to brace, encourage, even lift.
We may feel weak. Too weak and tired to reach at this point. But love is the eternal fuel. When we reach out to another with love, everything else follows course. In helping them, our own strength and endurance increases exponentially.
We find our own journey has become easier, our heart a little nobler, our self a little more—yes—perfect than it was before. Best of all, we’ve found another hand to brace against, balance with, as we move. And we are both energized and able to step up and over the sink-spots, carry the crusade more gracefully.
Reaching up and ahead is good. But if we don’t reach around, too, we may achieve “perfection” and find the victory empty; because that was never the object in the first place. It is only a byproduct of that one quality that encompasses everything: love. Merciful, compassionate, nonjudgmental, indiscriminating, enlightening, strengthening, buoyant. Perfect.