I sometimes think about a quote attributed to Michelangelo, when asked how he could sculpt a leaf that looks so real. “You just cut away all the parts that don’t look like a leaf”.
In a sense, we all sculpt ourselves. When we let go of all the parts that don’t really fit us, we discover who we really are. It’s sometimes difficult to let go of the image of ourselves that we have tried so hard to create. Often this is an image of perfection, but accepting our imperfection is an important part of discovering our true selves. The mistakes we make along the way are part of this process.
How often do we say, “If I’d known then what I know now, I would have done things differently.” And yet, if we had done things differently, we would not know what we know now. We would not be who we are now. We only know what we know now because of those mistakes. Without them, we would be a different person.
When we realize that we are imperfect, when we fully accept that, we can begin to know ourselves. When we can do that, we can understand what we are called to do.
What if our weaknesses, our weird-nesses, were an important part of our ability to do the work we are called to do?
Our weirdnesses can help us to carry the burden of our calling. For example, I think of Greta Thunberg, whose Asperger’s helps her to do what she does in spite of criticism and pressure that would cripple me. I also think of a local Friend, who can be vastly annoying when they want something, but who has been able to do amazing work in their community precisely because they do not accept “no” for an answer. In my work with anti-racism, the ability and willingness to be impolite and confrontational is sometimes needed to call out micro (or macro) aggressions. Or to speak truth to power.
We are all imperfect. But we are perfectly suited to the work we are called to do. Does this mean that we don’t have to try to be our best selves? I don’t think so. There is a difference between wanting to be better and wanting to be perfect.
It’s interesting to note that the word perfect originally did not mean “without flaws”. It meant “complete”. It is from the Latin per facere, to make complete. Something that is perfect is complete. When we are imperfect, we are incomplete. And it’s this incomplete-ness that means that we need others to complete us. This is the drive for community, for connection with others.
Understanding this enables (or even requires) us to connect to other people in order to be perfect – in order to be complete. Understanding ourselves, warts and all, helps us understand what we bring to our ministry, and what we need to call on others to do.
When we understand ourselves, we can carve our own leaves – cut away the parts we have tried to be that aren’t really us, and “sink down to the seed that God planted in us”. We can do what we have been admonished to do: love our neighbor as ourselves: as our true selves, not as we want to be seen, not as we hope that we are, not as others see us, nor as we are afraid we are. But as our true selves. This is liberating.