Perfection is a ruthless taskmaster. Its whip bears down on our minds, scarring us for life, mutilating our sense of self-worth. We hear its ruthless taskmaster in our own psyches, as well as in the confessions of many folks with whom we meet. It’s so commonplace that we’ve come to expect it during sessions of spiritual direction, probably due to the fact that we meet with people who possess a sincere desire to be whole people, and who often mistake wholeness for perfection.
When writing Prayers at Twilight, it seemed right to us to conclude this book with a final liturgy based on the value of wholeness. It, in some ways, sums up so much of the week’s prayers about quiet, vocation, beauty, presence, conversation, and hospitality. Wholeness is the culmination of our formation as we pray these values into our lives. But being whole isn’t the same as being perfect. Not even close.
In the Saturday liturgy on wholeness we write, "We come to the end of the week and this twilight moment aware that the mingling of darkness and light isn’t merely outside us but within us. True self-knowledge lays bare the fact that we are a mixture of light and dark, authenticity and hypocrisy."
"Thank you that wholeness isn’t perfection, but the habit of acknowledging, accepting, and embracing all that we are—both the light and dark."
Perfection insists that it’s possible, with great effort and motivation from shame, to eliminate all the darkness that lurks within us. Wholeness knows better. Wholeness, instead, peers into the shadows of our inner life with curiosity, acceptance, and welcome; and invites the deformed aspects of our personality into the light of self-awareness and the embrace of God’s love, acceptance, and grace.
That’s why wholeness is possible even when we’re flawed—and we all are! We can be whole people, as long as we can acknowledge the truth of who we are to ourselves, to God, and to others. If I can say with humility and self-awareness that I am jealous for another person’s success, I can be whole. Whole in the sense of integrity. Whole in the sense that the inside of me matches the outside of me—a person who’s aware and acknowledges my jealousy and envy.
Too often in Christian circles there’s an idea or impression given that wholeness is about “getting it all together.” It’s presented as a state of being, a place for which we strive, and to which a rare few arrive. But consider these thoughts from authors Wilkie Au and Noreen Canon in their brilliant book, Urgings of the Heart, as they respond to this misguided notion:
"The goal of wholeness as seen from the perspective of a holistic Christian spirituality differs
drastically from this popular conception. Viewing wholeness in a paradoxical way, Christian
spirituality associates it with a wholehearted commitment to 'always being on the way' rather
than 'having it all together.' A 'whole person' values consciousness and is committed to being
aware and reflective about how his or her actions, thoughts, and feelings affect the life of love to
which Christians are called."
This is the perspective of wholeness that we represent in the final Saturday liturgy of Prayers at Twilight, and in this final blog post in our series, The Shaping of a Life. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Prayers at Twilight so that you can begin to pray wholeness into your life, you can order your copy here.
By the way, it’s so good to be “always on the way” with you!
Many thanks for joining us! Beth and David