The Path of Imperfection
February 14, 2019
But when Simon Peter saw the catch of fish, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"
On Mother’s Day 2002, Doyle learned that she was pregnant. She decided to keep the baby and marry the father, whom she did not know well. That was also when she determined to get sober. As part of her recovery, she attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She began to wonder, “Why is that we can only be this honest with one another in the little dark basements of churches one hour a week? What if we could be fully honest and real with each other in everyday life?”
Doyle started to get up early in the morning and write in the voice she heard herself speak at AA. Through Facebook, she gained a large national following. What came back to her from people all across the country was a collective admission that the work of keeping up appearances was exhausting. “Why is it,” she asks, “that we feel we must keep from each other the very things we are meant to carry with each other?”
As part of a series on what it means to live a called life, today I explore the path of imperfection. For feelings of inadequacy--and their shadow emotion of shame--can greet us the moment we hear a call. “Woe is me, for I am lost,” the prophetic Isaiah laments as he felt summoned before God. “I am the least of the apostles,” writes Paul about his call to follow Jesus, “unfit to be an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” “Go away from me, Lord,” Simon Peter says to Jesus, “for I am a sinful man.” Yet it is precisely in that moment when we acknowledge our brokenness and our failings that we can lose whatever armor we’ve been carrying to keep others from seeing who we truly are.
Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton’s has just published a book about the disciple Simon Peter entitled Flawed but Faithful Disciple. In Scripture, Simon Peter is truly our companion on the path of imperfection. (Adam Hamilton, Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2018).) He gave his heart to Jesus, but time and again, he would get things wrong, say the most inappropriate things, and fail spectacularly in his efforts to be faithful. Yet Jesus turns to Simon more than any other disciple, as if to say to all of us, “I do not expect perfection from you. Embrace the path of imperfection.”
What makes Simon’s example so compelling is his perseverance, a willingness to get up every time he falls, acknowledge his failings and accept Jesus’ forgiveness. Remember that he was the one who denied even knowing Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest. How could he ever forgive himself for abandoning his teacher and closest friend? Even then, after his resurrection Jesus seeks Simon out to make sure that he knows he is forgiven, and still called to be a witness to Jesus’ way of love in this world.
As my life has become more public, so have my failures. Some of my more painful and embarrassing mistakes have been unintentional; others, more painfully still, the result of that particularly dangerous form of blindness that accompanies certitude that I am right.
I am learning that acceptance is the first step on the path of imperfection, but only the first. The second step is to take responsibility for the impact of my mistakes and failings on other people. The third step is to apologize and to make amends. The step after that is to learn how I might avoid such mistakes in the future. In other words, when walking the path imperfection, we must move toward pain rather than away from it. It isn’t easy, but it is the path of forgiveness and hard-won wisdom.
Public failure is the price of a public life, to be accepted with humility and grace. We must all do our best, all the while knowing that as imperfect beings we have been called, and in imperfection we respond. There is freedom in that realization, appropriate humility, and wonder at the depth of God’s love and mercy.
It also is a clarion call of responsibility, propelling us forward to act and offer what we have, rather than hold back in embarrassment or shame. For every day God calls us to acts of courage and kindness, of intention and commitment. Every day God calls us to live with the audacious conviction that our lives and our actions matter. Nothing serves the forces of evil better than the hesitancy of those unwilling to fail. Yes, we are the imperfect vessels of God’s grace, not the grace itself. But without vessels, grace cannot be carried from one place or person to another.
May you walk with confidence on the path of imperfection and boldly offer something of the love, mercy, and forgiveness you have received to those you encounter along the way.