reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Deuteronomy 6:5

I worked an insanely long double shift recently. And I got home so late, so hungry, but too tired to eat. I fell into bed completely exhausted. Morning prayers came early. Too early.

I took my son to work and then went to daily Mass. I was so spent that my voice could barely chant the Syriac, as it cracked on the in-between tones. I could scarcely focus on the homily. The thought came to me that it would have been better if I had skipped Mass and just stayed home. Maybe sleep would have been a better use of my energy.

Then I felt the Lord say, “Your body is here in my presence. Your will is here. Your heart is here. If your mind isn’t, three out of four isn’t bad.”

I grew up so much the perfectionist. If I couldn’t do something perfectly then I didn’t undertake it at all. I heard countless times in my childhood, “Good is the enemy of the best.” It was supposed to be motivational, an inspiration to give one’s all. Instead, it made me feel that everything that didn’t meet my arbitrary standards of perfection should be utterly rejected and despised. If at first you don’t succeed, destroy any evidence that you tried.

Then one day a colleague at the parish where I was preparing a six-course farm-to-table supper for 120 people gently and truthfully said, “Daja, perfect is not a stick to beat the good.”

What a liberating moment. Sometimes three out of four isn’t bad.

It reminds me of God’s word through the prophet Zechariah about not despising the day of small things. It calls to mind the word of God through the prophet Isaiah about how if we are willing and obedient we inherit the promise (it says nothing about being successful). It’s reminiscent of every gift of love from my kids that I have never judged according to a standard of perfection, but instead according to the affection and goodness of the action. The front of my refrigerator bears witness with drawings and finger paintings and notes that say “I love you Mommy. From Cyril.” Why would a benevolent Father reject my efforts simply because I could not help being too tired to retain the readings. My efforts made in love perhaps adorn the front of God’s refrigerator as childlike art. Sometimes the soul understands what the mind cannot anyway.

There is a temptation to make everything–including religion–about us, about how we feel, and about how satisfied we are with the outcome of our efforts. But it’s not about me. I’m too little to see the big picture anyway. I’m just a small person in a little part of the world doing insignificant things like reading books to children and listening to teenagers talk in the car and making space for college students who need a safe place to sort themselves out. All this involves liberal snacks and inadequate sleep. All the little actions are imperfect, because I am often too tired, too silly, or too poor to do them as well as I think they should be done. And yet….willing and obedient.

If like me, you also confuse giving your all with an addiction to perfection, these words from St. John Henry Newman are a balm:

God knows me and calls me by my name.…
God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission—I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.

Somehow I am necessary for His purposes…
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection
between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good,
I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth
in my own place, while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments
and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever, wherever I am,
I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be
necessary causes of some great end,
which is quite beyond us.
He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life,
He may shorten it;
He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends,
He may throw me among strangers,
He may make me feel desolate,
make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—
still He knows what He is about.…
Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—
I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used.

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