Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers error to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.
-Francis T. Vincent, Former Commissioner of Baseball
Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.
Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.
Whenever, not if ever
We have a wedding in the family this coming weekend, so that’s on my mind. It’s exciting, though there is the potential for billions of details to obscure the reason for the season. To help me keep my head on straight, I’ve been thinking about the liturgy for the Blessing and Celebration of a Marriage, found in the Book of Common Prayer beginning at page 423. It’s long been my conviction that we come to understand the intent of these liturgies by looking at the prayers in that service. We often say that praying shapes our believing, and the prayers in this service (found on page 429) certainly live up to that.
One prayer in particular always catches my eye. We pray for the couple: Give them grace when they hurt each other to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours. The operative word in that prayer is “when.” It doesn’t say “if.” It says “when,” which means that the couple will invariably hurt each other, as sure as the sun will rise and the invoice from the wedding planner will appear. But the good news of our faith is that there is a way back. There is a way to start over.
And lest we think this is just about married couples, we find a similar phrase in the baptismal covenant. The second promise asks: Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? We answer that we will, with God’s help. But once again, it doesn’t say “if ever.” It counts on the fact that we will mess up, and celebrates the good news that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less, that there is always a way back.
I suspect we are all familiar with that brand of teeth-gritting Christianity that frets about getting everything right all the time, that golden calf of perfectionism. Newsflash: It’s a particular hazard for religious folks, especially clergy. One of the gifts for me found in scripture is that there are no characters, save our Lord and Savior, who get it right all the time. The heroes of the Hebrew Scripture, the disciples and apostles each make a mess of things. Abraham, Jacob, David each have flaws on full display. The disciples betray, deny, disbelieve, scram. St. Paul, who I suspected battled with the sin of perfectionism, spoke about himself as the chief of sinners.
A good editor could have gone through all of scripture in an afternoon and removed the less flattering portions. But they are preserved perhaps to let us know that perfectionism is a false God. As we recognize and acknowledge that, we have a chance to experience the grace of God. Therein lies the gospel.
Speaking of the impending World Series, I’m reminded of the quote from former Commissioner of Baseball, Francis T. Vincent, (above). He was preaching about the rigorous truth of the gospel, which does not cover up our shortcomings but also does not let them define us. One friend of mine, who came to faith as an adult, described the gospel this way, harping back to an old bestseller title. He said the gospel sounded to him like this: I’m not okay. You’re not okay. But that’s okay. I tried to unpack that a bit with him, to make sure we never lose sight of original blessing, the goodness of all of God’s creation. But I take his point: It’s okay. All will be well. There is a way back. There is a welcome home party for the prodigal son.
And that recognition and acknowledgement may help us this week. It teaches us to be gentle with ourselves. God does not expect perfection. All God expects is gratitude and love. It teaches us to be gentle with others, to forgive, to cut some slack, to give folks a break. It teaches us to worship, to give thanks for amazing grace that takes us as we are.
RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.
Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor. Learn more at renewalworks.org