By JIM NICHOLS
I suspect my friend does not remember saying it, but I have not forgotten his statement, “Not every task demands perfection.”
Like many of you, I have tried to do things correctly for my whole life. It has become obvious that most pieces of life are out of my control; nevertheless, I have worked hard to perform well on tasks that are within my reach. As I have begun adding years during this later time in my life, my friend’s statement has become more significant.
I am currently under the influence of two books. One is On the Brink of Everything by Parker Palmer and the other is Good Enough by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie. The former deals specifically with aging and the latter with “. . . learning to live with imperfection in a culture that promotes endless progress.” God is using these books to teach me.
We were not ready to learn certain things when we were younger. Each of us has faced many “learning experiences” that have shaped us into who we are today. We might have wanted to scream to God, “No more learning experiences, please!” but they kept coming. There are more ahead. Even though some of those experiences were traumatic or at least troubling, most of us can say that that they were enriching as they showed us pieces of life we needed to see. If we can cast them into collaborating with God’s “yoke” to use a term from an earlier article, we can see them as guides that protected us as well as deepened us.
Palmer relates that one of the consequences of growing older is that he is less capable of multi-tasking. The benefit of that, he says, is that he has more interest and time for thinking deeply about a smaller number of things. A result is to have richer and more rewarding relationships with others and with ideas that need pondering.
But, we say, we need to utilize the time we have on earth because it is limited. As a matter of fact, nearly everything we desire or want in life seems to be limited. Richard Rohr suggests that our modern world is caught in a worldview of scarcity; everything is running out or not available, especially time.
If we examine our language, we note the importance of time for us. We invest time, spend time, buy time, lose it, save it, waste it—the list goes on. One of the gifts of adding years is that we can become more content with our limitations, including the limitations of our time. We have been called to be people of God; unfortunately, we have not been given detailed instructions as to how to play out that calling. If we believe that God has created each of us with unique strengths as well as limitations (which we seem to dwell upon more often), we can believe that we have in a real sense been designed by God. That is a valuable concept that we should not lose. My handicaps and strengths are different from yours, but both of us have them.
We Americans have been duped into believing that time is for producing things; we are pragmatic about time. What if we adjusted our thinking to focus on using our time to become a better person of merit and worth in God’s eyes? What if we devoted a moment each day to considering how to spend our time becoming a person of love rather than producing things?
We have mixed items together that do not fit. Our American view of Christianity has incorporated an emphasis on progress when, in our better Christian thoughts, we acknowledge that only Jesus is perfect. Yet we feel this steady drive toward working on our Christian walk of improvement in the eyes of the world. We should be striving for transformation rather than perfection.
Bowler and Ritchie suggest that a good day for us should be one where our biggest loves find their way in—God, friends, meaning, family.
Scripture notes that when we were children, we thought as children. As we add years, we clarify our strengths and handicaps and see ourselves more clearly as our Creator God sees us. Let us walk in His love.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain