Once, in Amory, Mississippi, Gladys Drane, I’m sorry you didn’t know her, shook my hand after the Sunday service and said, “If I give you the money, would you get a hair cut?” By then, I had played the game for a while, and, without a pause, replied, “You could give me the money.” In every congregation there have been people who knew more about how my life ought to be lived than I did. They have offered to pay for my family’s membership in the country club and my dues in Rotary or the Lions Club. They have suggested that I had no business talking to them of Marcus Borg and of not telling them everything John Calvin said.
You have had similar experiences with those dedicated to your personal improvement. Those Who Know Best (Truman Capote’s phrase) are everywhere and are determined to make us into who they want us to be. We just won’t do as we are. And, of course, we have been bruised enough at that spot for it to be a very tender place in us all. We are quite sensitive to falling short, afraid we aren’t good enough, certain we should be doing more to deserve a place in the human family, and sure that we will soon be asked to leave the room. But really now. Just take a look around.
If you put us all on a table, and slowly circled it, taking stock, adding up our assets and liabilities, you would come to the conclusion that each of us leaves a lot to be desired. There is more that we don’t do than we do. Certainly more that we don’t do well than we do well. Many, perhaps most, of us have more reason to be ashamed and sorry than to be proud and brimming with confidence. But, before you go off on yourself, or give up completely and curl into a fetal position for the rest of your natural life, consider this:
A Boeing 747 leaves a lot to be desired. Wait! Did I hear someone say, “747?” What an amazing coincidence! For right here on the Communion Table is my very own scaled down model of a 747! What do you think about that! Yep. A 747 is one of my symbols that keeps me on track and helps me stay sane by reminding me that even a Boeing 747 on its best day leaves a lot to be desired.
Think about it. You can’t comb your hair with a 747. You can’t brush your teeth with one. You can’t mow the lawn with one. You can’t plow the garden with one. You can’t dig a hole with one. You can’t play tennis with one. You can’t drive it to the grocery store, and even if you could, you would never find a place to park. You get the idea. There is more you cannot do with a 747 than you can do with one. A 747 is like us in that it does not do all things well. But, it does what it does very well. So do we. We don’t disparage a 747 for not being more like a canoe or a garden hose, why do we berate ourselves for our deficiencies?
We are ashamed of ourselves for not being more of a Renaissance Woman or Man—a Jane, or James, Bond—who knows everything and does all things well. However, if we are going to denigrate and belittle ourselves for our insufficiencies, we should add our capacity to come up with sufficient ideals to the list. We are certainly insufficient in that regard. We have the wrong ideals. A person with no weakness, no defects, no blemishes, no gaps is more robot than human being. Give me someone who stumbles around a bit and can’t find the door or the light switch! Let me BE that person! What fun would there be in doing all things well? When would you ever laugh at yourself, or cry? It’s much better to be the way we are!
We all have our deficits but. We do some things really well. The work is to let our deficits stand without interfering with what we do well. We have to find our song, our gait, our niche, our beam and do what we do well, without dissing ourselves for what we don't do well at all. We are likely to be a disappointment to someone on some level, and to some people on all levels. A 747 has more things that it doesn’t do, cannot do, than it has that it does do. So do we. Our task is to do the things we do well and let that be that, without apology, embarrassment or shame. And, if someone gives us down the river because of something we can't do, we only need to tell them a 747 couldn't do it either.