To Love and Be Loved
“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.”
Sam Keen, To Love and Be Loved
When I was a girl, I was always striving for complete and total perfection. We are talking about an OCD level, Marie Kondo nothing-that-doesn’t-spark-joy elimination style organizing, cleaning, and sorting kind of 9 year old. I would organize my socks according to color, place my dolls in neat arrangements on my methodically made bed, and brush my hair in between class periods. I laid out my outfit for the next day every night, and even cleaned the kitchen for my mother for “fun.” I guess you could say I liked order. Although my habits eventually changed to become a more well rounded, adjusted, mildly organized person, my inner perfection meter has not. I’ve just gotten really good at ignoring it. I have always looked for what could be better: in music, in my time management, in my work, and knew that I wasn’t enough because I wasn’t doing X, Y, and Z. You could say my childhood perfectionist tendencies morphed into adult like ruminations on my own abilities to succeed in this thing we call life. Although my spiritual awakening has brought new peace into my ultimate world view, my monkey mind seems to always go back to how I can do better, so that I can live up to my own expectations. Eventually, in meditation, I laugh at the audacity of my own ego, always making everything about itself! So selfish. In my head I would think, “Stop being so obsessed with yourself, Laura!” Yet I know that part of spiritual enlightenment is radical self-acceptance. Why, though?
Richard Rohr says that Imperfection is Divine Perfection. Let me say that again for those in the back who may not have heard. Imperfections, those things you see in yourself that you may want to “fix” are actually God’s version of perfection. This truth extends to and is proved in the existence of nature. The Imperfect Tree. The way her limbs extend towards the sun in any given direction, like a child’s finger’s reaching for his mother’s arms, flailed in fanned anticipation of love and warmth. Some of her leaves are healthy and grasp tightly to the Mother’s arm, which gives it life. Other leaves are dying, decayed, or have fallen to the bottom of her feet, their manifestations disappearing into the soil beneath. Her bark, scraped and healing, continually changes its skin. This is life, this tree. It is perfectly imperfect. Without its imperfection, it could not be life. The nature of nature is imperfection! Yet what great beauty and power this tree has, the atoms and water coursing through its living veins! This idea, brought about in a Universal Christ conference taught by Richard Rohr has been floating through my mind all week. In and out it went, like an obsession. Could my “imperfections” exist because I am alive and that is the nature of life? Could my “imperfections” actually be a gift from the Source and not a source of shame?
As I began to ponder more on my own imperfections, it soon hit me, where I truly understood the love of the imperfect: in my late husband! (Let us all take a minute to laugh out loud at that.) The farther away I move from his earthly existence and closer I move to my own new manifestation in this life, I begin to understand what it is that true love is all about. When memories of him float back to me, most of the time, it is not thoughts of the angelic, perfect, oh-wasn’t-he-so-talented person, but of his true self, what made him who HE was.
I think of the hair sticking out above his eyebrow that I always really wanted to pluck.
(Alas, he would not let me.)
His quirky Dad jokes.
The long pauses of silence, as he would stare off into space, seeing another dimension that I could not see.(This usually meant he was writing music in his head.)
Waking up to a song being written, mid-song, the lyrics still clunky.
A riff being played over and over, till its imperfection was wiped clean.
His morning vocal warm ups.
The way he had to have the dishwasher packed “just-so.”
The scar on his cheek.
While he was alive, I may have seen these as just the backdrop of our humanness. They were things that I didn’t even really consciously think about. It wasn’t what most people loved about him. They loved his “finished” music, his giftedness for musical arranging, and his thirst to make music. I loved that about him too, no doubt, but somehow those aren’t the things that come back to me when I stroll down memory lane. No, it’s the “behind the scenes” footage of our lives together. These were things that were hidden from others view because it was too personal, or possibly weird, or not yet ready for other’s eyes to judge. Yet, part of the reason I experienced such love with him was that I allowed myself to love everything about him, not just the good and perfect things, but to deeply love and accept his flaws because that is part of what made him who he was. It’s not a perfect analogy; to be sure, you wouldn’t want to extend this idea to continually overlooking potentially harmful and dangerous behaviors in the name of love. Yet, those little things that some would consider not “Instagram worthy” make people truly human. In those moments I saw his true humanity and therefore his true divinity, his nature. A unique divine fingerprint. His “imperfection” proving that he was indeed at one with this natural world: a growing, changing, dying, living being, just like the imperfect tree.
And God called it good.
This made me start to wonder if truly loving someone on this earth is patterned after the same way in which God loves us. We see them at the core of their being, their inner wholeness, and accept them for the divinely imperfect, flawed, magnificently beautiful, wonder of a creature that they are. What if earthly love was meant to be a reflection of how our creator loves us? God recognizes the way we were made, a wholly and imperfect life, and loves us for being the reflection of this divine creation.
God doesn’t love us in spite of us, but God loves us because of our imperfection!
God doesn’t root for us to just become an emotionless, robotically obedient, unthinking human, but the Spirit pushes us instead to recognize our imperfection and to emulate radical self-acceptance. On this path, we will know what it is like to love like God loves. We can love creation, whether it be a friend, a family member, a lover, or a stranger the way She created us to love.
God doesn’t want us to be perfect. God wants us to be LOVE. To love, we have to see the divinity within all God’s creation.
And call it good.
As I’ve grown and stretched into this new life, I see this more clearly in the dear friendships I have created along the way. In the pondering, soul-searching, spiritual thoughts of my friend Lizzy, in the existential pontifications of my friend Sean, in the nurturing of scholarly thought and tough theological graspings of my friend Jonathan. I see it in the empathy, love, and righteous anger for the oppressed in my friend Jenny and the hard working, social justice bearing, world view bending actions of my friends Cynthia, Chuck, Dale, and Pam as we worked on the border. These people I have come to love because I see the reflection of Christ in them, as they work in and through their earthly, human lives.
So I ask you now: How can you look at your friend, your partner, or the checkout person in your grocery story, and see their divinity? Can you look at them, peer into their eyes, and start to see their Divine Perfection? Can you also peer into the divinity within yourself? This divine imperfection the Creator calls Good?
God is a mirror big enough to receive everything, and every single part of you.
Just as it is, rejecting nothing, adjusting nothing,
Often, for the sake of an even deeper love.
God always sees and loves God in you.
It seems like God has no choice.
This is God’s eternal and unilateral contract with the soul.
One day, the mirror will reflect in both directions,
And we will see over there what was allowed in here.
This is full access seeing- and being seen:
Most have named it heaven
And it begins now.
Let this Divine Mirror fully receive you.
All of you.
And you never need be lonely again.
Excerpts from “The Divine Mirror,” Richard Rohr
Photo by Jeremy Ricketts