In a commencement address that I gave to Trinity School in Falls Church, Virginia in May of 2017, I shared with graduates one of my favorite insights, one that I often urge about myself and those who work with me — “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” For this reason my next two blog posts will deal with the importance of understanding that we are all, as Immanuel Kant once described us, “broken timber.” Of course, we all try to improve, but it’s important to accept our limitations as they are. Mary DeTurris Poust, wrote beautifully about this in the National Catholic Reporter in February of 2014.
Mary DeTurris Poust is the author of several books on Catholic spirituality, including Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality. She blogs at www.notstrictlyspiritual.com. Since she quotes Henri Nouwen in the first paragraph, let me share a little about him as well. He was a Dutch Catholic priest who was a member of the faculty at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. Nouwen published some 39 books on spirituality and was named by Christian Century as the first choice of authors for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy. I had the opportunity to hear him preach once when I was at Notre Dame on business.
Our brokenness is truly ours. Nobody else’s. Our brokenness is as unique as our chosenness and our blessedness,” writes Henri Nouwen in Life of the Beloved. “As fearsome as it may sound, as the Beloved ones, we are called to claim our unique brokenness, just as we have to claim our unique chosenness and our unique blessedness.”
Can we begin to see our brokenness as a blessing rather than a curse, a beauty mark rather than a scar? It can happen only when we fully place ourselves in God’s hands and accept once and for all that we are indeed wonderfully made, even with – or maybe because of – our flaws and weaknesses, our wrinkles and quirks, our sins and struggles. God doesn’t love us only after we are “fixed.” God loves us into being and loves us through our imperfections, patiently waiting for us to climb on board and revel in that gift. Unfortunately, we are too often caught up in the mirage of wholeness, the mistaken belief that a perfect outer shell will make us more lovable.
We are so busy spinning our wheels in an effort to become shiny and unblemished to the outside world that we miss the still, small voice urging us on from the inside, the Spirit beckoning us to stop spinning, stop judging, and rest in the arms of God exactly as we are at this moment, knowing we are loved perfectly despite our imperfections.
We are all shattered in one way or another. We are all incomplete, missing pieces here and there. But we are all beautiful. In fact, we are more beautiful because of it. Who wants polished perfection that belies the truth of what’s inside when you can have the raw power of beauty that’s broken because it has lived and loved and lost and carried on in spite of it all? Be broken and be beautiful.
In the above, I hear echoes of Leonard Cohen’s wonderful song Hallelujah. Leon Wieselier, a friend of Cohen’s, wrote this a week after his death (New York Times, Nov. 14, 2016):
Leonard always sang as a sinner. He refused to define sin as a failure or a disqualification. Sin was a condition of creatureliness, and his feeling for our creatureliness was boundless. “Even though it all went wrong/ I’ll stand before the Lord of Song/ with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!”