I Am Not Perfect

by Francis MacNutt
Jan/Feb 2010

Way back in 1976, I was privileged to be a leader and a speaker at the Catholic Indian Congress in Fort Peck, Montana. The Native Americans who invited me were Lakota (Sioux). For me it became a wonderful but humbling learning experience.

One of the things I learned was that when the Lakota create their crafts, they purposely leave an imperfection which it is hard to find. For example, if you own some authentic Native American beadwork, there will be one bead missing or in the wrong place, although it may be difficult to see. The teaching is simple: only God is perfect; the Lakota make that clear in their art.

Since I, in my spiritual life, was trying my best to be perfect (misinterpreting Christ's remark, "Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect"), and since human beings can't be perfect, I was perpetually feeling slightly guilty. I think most of us are set up for failure, and are weighed down by a vague feeling of guilt.

And here is how it works.

Almost all of us have three or four major areas where we concentrate our lifetime energy. Each of these areas is different and requires a fulltime effort if we are going to succeed. For example, your family should occupy a major part of your life. Your goal is to become as perfect a father or mother (or child, or spouse) as you can. This, however, when done well, is a fulltime job.

And then you have your profession or occupation: CEO, teacher, or day-laborer. And this, too, is a fulltime work, and the higher you rise, the more successful you are, the more time you will spend at it. At a minimum, you may have a 9 to 5 job, but if you really are successful and rise to the top, you can hardly spend less than 70 hours (or more) in being the CEO of an organization. The more successful you are, the more you have to take time away from your other obligations.

And then, you may have a goal of being perfect in your Christian vocation. St. Paul encourages us to "Pray always." And your Christian ministry may become fulltime. I remember that whenever I used to hear a speaker try to motivate me to pray by saying, "I get up at 4 a.m. every morning and pray for an hour in order to start the day right," I would always feel guilty by comparison, because I don't get up until 7 a.m.

Added to that, we have our social lives; and we can fill our calendars by going out to dinner almost every evening; this may very well be necessary to maintain your standing in the community. And when we are invited to dinner, we feel the need to return the invitation or you will soon appear to be ungrateful or anti-social. The more successful we are in our work, the more sociable we may also have to be.

Now, to do each one of these perfectly is a fulltime work, and one of the other areas is bound to suffer. I am set up to fail.

We who have families recognize how we fail to measure up in fulfilling our parental responsibilities. Many famous evangelists testify to having angry, rebellious and neglected wives and children. Being a successful minister may mean that I become an unsuccessful, imperfect parent. The greatest English preacher in the 18th Century was probably John Wesley, but his marriage was, frankly, a disaster. We can probably name a several famous Christian leaders in our day who have openly repented for greatly neglecting their spouses and children.

Since all these areas are fulltime jobs, we are set up to fail. How can I be a perfect husband or wife (or father or mother) and also be a successful businessman, or a successful athlete, or a successful religious leader? It's an impossible ideal.

And the Lakota Indians symbolize this truth in their art.

The truth is this: you cannot be perfect. Only God is perfect. So, what can I do?

There are several things where we have a head start if we are truly Christian. For example, if we really follow the teachings of Jesus, we will not be materialistic. Jesus warned us not to seek riches. If we really moderate our desire to make money, our standard of success in life will be different. Who really cares how large our salary is, how large our house is, so long as we have the necessities of life?

If I have been freed from an excessive need for fame, for reputation, or for success, I will be free from the pressure to be a popular success. This should be greatly moderated by Jesus' teachings. And not only by his teaching, but as the Spirit transforms me, I will actually be much less driven by the need for material possessions or for fame.

Why do the marriages of so many famous celebrities fail? Isn't it clear? Their weakness in Gospel terms is their excessive desire for applause, for designer clothes, for high-powered cars. They have made choices, even without knowing it. You cannot succeed totally in one of these areas without failing in another.

What good does it do to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of my soul? Jesus doesn't promise us riches, or fame, or power. If I feel guilt about not achieving success in these worldly terms, I need to recognize that this is a false guilt.

And always I will bear the weight of realizing that in some area of my life I have failed to achieve what was possible. But I want to embrace my imperfection, as long as I did my best.

I rejoice (if I have done my best to avoid serious sin) in accepting my imperfection, my littleness. I am imperfect, and I live in an imperfect world, and an imperfect church, even while I'm doing my best to bring it my love and healing.

Francis MacNutt Jan/Feb 2010 Issue
Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM.