“Through exaggerated biographies and airbrushed news feeds, our heroes often come to us without stain or crease–glorious, victorious, and flaw-free. Or else we see them on a stage with their talents on show but their support crew neatly concealed. Seeing only their perfections or ignoring their helpers, we’re given a false standard to follow” (The Making of Us, pp 123).
As humans, imperfection is inevitable. Each us has shortcomings and mistakes we’d rather not discuss. Even so, there are times when our flaws stand up and stare us in the face. They demand recognition. They refuse to be ignored. Often, in these moments when our imperfection presses on our minds, we feel inadequate. We set ourselves impossible standards and feel broken when we can’t reach them.
And the dangerously misused tool, comparison, doesn’t help.
Recently, my college roommate and I have been reading The Making of Us by Sheridan Voysey, a book which describes his pilgrimage following the footsteps of the monk Cuthbert. One passage stood out to me as we were reading this week. Voysey discusses at the beginning of Chapter 8 his struggle with self-comparison and his repeated feelings of inadequacy throughout his life. As he oked at others succeeding and receiving miracles, he felt he was failing in his career and his faith.
Then he writes, “You don’t see Cuthbert comparing himself to others. But then, you don’t see him having many faults at all. Maybe this is part of our problem. Cuthbert’s biographers present him as the archetypal saint: so humble he washes the feet of his visitors, so wise he enlightens everyone he counsels, so powerful he quells a raging fire with a word, so holy he turns water into wine just by tasting it. . . The nearest we come to seeing weakness in Cuthbert is his fear of falling to the love of riches. But with godly restraint and a diet of raw onions, it’s a temptation he deftly avoids” (123).
Voysey makes an important point. Humanity has a tendency to set the people we admire on pedestals. We discuss only the good in the stories of saints and heroes, conveniently ignoring the shadows that offset their light. Archetypal saints are holy, infinitely patient, always kind, perpetually loving. And somehow, even though we admit verbally that no Christian is perfect, we still feel like we have to be. When we focus only on the virtues of our role models, we come to feel more deeply the imperfection in ourselves. We grow discouraged because we sugar-coat our examples and then find our lives aren’t as sweet as their’s.
God, however, doesn’t sugarcoat His chosen people. In Scripture, we don’t see flawless heroes who never need help; we see imperfect people being used by a perfect God.
We aren’t presented saints that never struggle with weakness. Instead, we hear of Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God even though they lived in His presence. We’re told about Noah who slept in a drunken stupor immediately after God saved him and his family. Abraham, whose faith was counted to him as righteousness, tried to bring about God’s promise in his own power. Peter, the Rock Jesus planned to build His church on, denied Christ three times. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, murdered Christians in the name of the Lord.
Over and over, the Bible presents ordinary, flawed people as the chosen vessels of God’s love. God doesn’t gloss over their imperfections. Instead, He allows us to see the wonders He can work through broken men.
The Bible gives us achievable examples to follow instead of impossible goals. God doesn’t ask us to live perfect lives; instead, He asks us to recognize our imperfection and rest in Him. Rather than asking us to mold ourselves into holiness, the Lord simply asks us to seek Him. The virtues we are trying so hard to grow into are gifts we receive through God alone.
The saints we celebrate for patience, kindness, and love didn’t make themselves patient, kind, or loving. They, too, were imperfect people. They had flaws and struggles and weaknesses. We remember them today because they lived for God, not in their own strength, but in His.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-11, Paul writes, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When we look at ourselves and see our imperfection, may we remember that our failures are nothing in comparison to God’s victory. May we rejoice in our weakness, knowing that the Lord is our strength. At the end of the day, we are all inadequate in some sense. We all need God’s mercy, His grace, and and His love. But the good news is, God has already given us His love. When we feel broken, worn, and insufficient, He is waiting, calling us to rest in Him. We don’t need to do more or be more.
We simply need to abide in the grace of God.