What’s the deadline for New Year’s resolutions? I mean, are we supposed to be all resolute before the ball drops or do we have until, say, Feb. 1?
The reason I’ve not written my resolutions yet is that I really don’t know where to start. There are so very many things about me that need fixing. I need to eat more healthfully and exercise more diligently. I need to do a better job with time management. I want to read and write more. My house, my office, my car — each needs a thorough cleaning and a sustainable organization system. I need to be more committed to daily quiet time. And of course I’ll also resolve — as I do every year — to read the Bible through (I practically have Genesis memorized).
Holy moly — it’s a lot. And here’s the thing: when I look at this list, I get so overwhelmed that I want to clear off a place on my couch, curl up with an entire turtle cheesecake, and binge-watch The Golden Girls.
Of course, if I did make and manage to keep all those resolutions, I’d be perfect. Only problem? There’s no such thing as absolute perfection. I learned this in a machine shop, of all places. I was working at a community college at the time and was with a group of students who were interested in our machining major. As we toured the shop, the department chair explained to our group that students would learn to use equipment to manufacture parts that were identical to within a fraction of a millimeter. He went on to say, “Of course, no two things are exactly the same; there’s no such thing as perfection. We just get as close to that as possible.”
I was astounded! What I heard him say was: “Do your best. Don’t be careless or unprofessional. But when you’ve done your very best, be content with the result.”
Recently, I heard echoes of this ideology while reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. A self-titled researcher storyteller with a Ph.D. in social work, Brown says: “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. … [It] is not self-improvement … [or] the key to success. … Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable goal.” (Maybe she is a machinist in addition to being a university professor and a world renown scholar. Just a thought.)
Brown takes issue with perfectionism because she considers it to be one of the barriers to true connection. She believes “connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” And connection, according to Brown, cannot happen if we hide behind a façade of perfection. She says that in order to form true community, to connect, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be imperfect.
That makes sense right? I mean, who wants to be around someone who (we think) is invulnerable and perfect? It’s irritating. Plus they make us nervous. Being around flawless folk causes our vulnerabilities to leak out all over the place.
So if Brown is right and we must embrace vulnerability to make real connection, what does that mean for the church? Surely we should be able to find authentic community, real connection, in the church, right?
Yes. Absolutely. I believe that God calls us into community from the Garden to the Revelation. We, the church, are the Body of Christ. How can we be the Body if we are not connected? We can’t.
The problem, though, is that too often we come to church wearing our costumes of perfection. We come with our beautiful families, our harmonious marriages, our successful careers. We know we’re wearing costumes; we sit in our cars picking the lint of shame off of them before we enter the sanctuary. What we don’t believe is that anyone else is wearing one. We believe they (whoever “they” are) have everything together. Their kids are always so well-behaved; their careers are upwardly mobile; they read through the Bible every single year. We look at them and our shame deepens and we become convinced that we have to work harder on our costumes, shine up our shields of perfection.
Let’s don’t, though, OK? Instead, let’s set aside our vain attempts at perfection. Let’s agree that each of us is broken in countless ways and let’s be OK with that. Let’s resolve to be vulnerable. Let’s be the Body of Christ.
*This piece was first published on January 11, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I'm delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.