Many of the people who come to me with a problem or difficulty are struggling with their own imperfection, their own brokenness. We are so hard on ourselves. We can perhaps forgive others, but we cannot forgive ourselves.
I know this problem from the inside. I’m a recovering perfectionist. I want things to be perfect (or at least look that way). Maybe you’re like me. When we see our flaws and errors we instinctively cover them up. We don’t want anyone to see them, not even ourselves. Our goal is to fix those flaws, correct those errors. That becomes the goal of our spiritual lives—to become a “better” person, somebody who doesn’t sin so much, a person who has it all together, thank the Lord.
Actually, this is the opposite of the spiritual life. The deeper we go in the spirit, the more aware we become of our own fractures, splinters, gaping holes, and—this is the grace and glory—the more we smile! Somehow—who knows how—our bustedness ends up opening our hearts to grace and mercy and forgiveness and laughter, and it ends up somehow blessing others.
Some years ago a wise friend of mine, Peg Weeks, told me this old wisdom story.
An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.
At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.
“I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”
The old woman smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.
“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to grace the house. Without your being the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”