Friday, August 29, 2008

The Challenge of Perfection

Today a priest was telling me about 5 priests who have left the priesthood in the diocese in El Salvador where I am at right now. He said he thinks the problem has to do with a lack of maturity. Some have told him that they don't want to have any problems.

This reminded me of a reflection on perfection that I have been mulling over for the past few months. I once heard in my developmental psychology class that the challenge that young adults face is that of accepting their limits while at the same time not completely loosing their idealistic way of thinking from when they were teenagers and wanted to change the world in an instant.

Well, I think there are two extremes that people can go to when it comes to experiencing their limits and reacting to them. On the one hand, someone can become very perfectionistic, thinking that they must at all costs overcome their problems and limits. This response becomes burdensome on the person because they will eventually fail and have to deal with the fact that they are not perfect. Otherwise, the person will burn themselves out trying to be perfect and end up either going off the deep end or giving up completely and doing a 180. Really, this kind of person has too much faith in his or her own ability to change and not enough in God's grace and forgiveness.

The other extreme is to run from one's limits. This means avoiding all situations in which one sees one's defects or limits and acting as though they do not exist. The problem with this extreme is not only does the person never try to get better, but they set themselves up to eventually run from any challenge or difficulty that comes their way. This person places all their faith in God's forgiveness without thinking that they can or have to place any effort into changing.

Then there is the way of perseverance. This means accepting that as a human being one grows in stages and that change is a process. So one looks to slowly but surely get better and better. He or she looks at one's progress not based on the distance from the goal (which still being far off can cause one dispair) but rather bases progress on where he or she started and where he or she now is. This way takes into account the fact that something is better than nothing and realizes that the not-so-perfect motives or ways of doing things still are worth something, while he or she keeps in mind that he or she is called to do better. The person who walks this path places his or her faith in God while still disposing him or herself to receive the graces necessary to change. He or she collaborates with God. Faith in God's mercy is accompanied by faith in His grace, which will produce the desired result (for example, Saint Faustina who prayed for the virtue of Chastity. It was given to her as a gift).

Only in this third and middle way can one understand what Mother Teresa meant when she said "God desires faithfulness not victories," which means that God would rather have us get up and try again when we fall down instead of getting upset that we were not able to obtain the desired result at that very moment.

Slow and steady... brick by brick... stone by stone... and the Lord knows we grow into things.

1 comment:

Pia said...

this is very encouraging, and confirming for me. Thanks!