There’s a book I recently discovered called The Book of Qualities. The author, J. Ruth Gendler, takes 77 different human qualities like courage or grief or beauty and personifies them in brief narratives. I especially liked the one for perfection:
Perfection is careful but not cautious. She burned her hands too many times before she learned to pay attention. She says that hers is the most difficult job in the world. The post was vacant for nearly three years. Most people do not even make it past the first interview, and retirement is mandatory after nine years. About halfway through the fifth year Perfection started feeling like she was falling apart and dissolving into space. This recent episode humbled her. She had never realized how strongly we resist being broken open. She discovered that her greatest strengths grew out of her strongest weaknesses.
Perfection needs to keep moving. Otherwise she becomes swollen with her obsessions. She has learned to dance into the very center of her fears. She is not impressed by false modesty and the fronts we develop to hide our beauty. She is grieved by how fiercely we hate ourselves and yet refuse to change. She honors our flaws.
We can all relate to perfection from time to time, some more than others. Perfection can lead us to being broken open as we discover our weaknesses. This reminds me of Paul’s talk about weakness in scripture. He speaks of a figurative or literal “thorn” in his flesh given to him by God to humble him. He says,
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NRSV)
Like the story about Perfection says, Paul is practically dancing into the very center of his fears and flaws. How hard that is to do. Like Paul, Perfection realised that strength can be found in even the strongest weaknesses. Paul was probably a bit of a perfectionist in his missionary work, starting up churches, and spreading the new Christian faith. There was bound to be some hiccups and obstacles. He might even have had an inflated ego in his success that only a metaphorical thorn could puncture.
We can learn a lot from Paul and Perfection. We might find that they are mirrors of some of our broken and flawed parts.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod