All of us would love to be perfect. It’s one of those concepts that the media, our religion, or our surroundings praise above all. The idea of perfection — in body image, in success, in relationships, in our integrity. The pressure to be perfect is all too overwhelming for most of us.
A wise professor from my university once told us, “The older I get, the more imperfect I realize I become.” The quote may not have been exactly in those words, but we got the idea. Imperfection was being less than one expected.
Now, this one professor was my favorite professor of all time, mainly because he was the most down to earth teacher on campus. He often told us the most interesting stories and highlighted the details with the enthusiasm of a great storyteller. I thought about what he said and wondered what an amiable man and pastor meant by his imperfection. I just couldn’t fathom the concept. He had raised wonderful children, been married to the same wife for numerous years, and was a pastor and respected professor. Imperfection? It couldn’t be.
As I look at my life now as a wife, mother and teacher, I realize exactly what he meant. It’s not like each person is trying to be a phony or make a false persona for oneself, but it is true that as people from the outside (colleagues, extended family, friends) see us, they only see one image of us at certain moments. And that image, hopefully if one has integrity and a conscience, is a decent and upstanding image. But now I know that as we age, we tend to make errors in different ways, maybe not to the same degree as other people might, but in our own specific ways. We know when we disappoint ourselves and others around us. Sometimes we know we’re lacking in our judgment, and we don’t even care. I haven’t hit that point yet, but I’ve felt the sting of being the one not in the right. It’s not a good feeling at all.
For instance, as a wife, I know that I can try to be the best wife possible, but I will sometimes falter in some way, depending on the day, the situation, the mood I’m in, etc. I know what I want to be – loving, understanding, compassionate, but sometimes the results aren’t what I expect of myself. Even being married to the same man for many years doesn’t guarantee that things are always perfect, but they can be nearly perfect depending on our actions to our loved one. And it’s in these moments, that I remember my professor’s words loud and clear, even though I don’t want to admit it about myself. I understand exactly what he meant, only now I’m the one admitting my imperfection.
The human side of my being is hard to deal with especially when you are halfway through your life and you think you have it (for the most part) “together.” But, in this humanness, I am often brought back to my faith and what God expects of me. Then, it truly saddens me that I gave into humanness because of weakness, or mood, or whatever caused me to not be the understanding person I normally am to my husband, or kids, or others. And I can say, for myself, that although it doesn’t happen often, when it does, it feels like my heart was torn out of my chest and thrown to the ground. It doesn’t seem like this could be “me.”
As a mother, it has been apparent many times that what I thought was a good thing to say at the time was actually a mistake. Sometimes we as parents don’t understand how the impact of our words or actions (or the interpretation from our children) can cause pain, and not even intentionally. We’ve all had the moments of true frustration with children when we didn’t know what to say, but said it anyhow. Once we saw the look on our child’s face, it was already done and it was too late. We didn’t listen enough, or we heard what we wanted and overreacted, causing unneeded words to be exchanged. Again, imperfectly perfect.
In teaching, I am reminded that patience is so important in dealing with my students even when I don’t feel like being patient. It has been one of those lessons which I learned early on in teaching, and for the most part, has served me well. That does not mean that I tolerate disrespect or unruly behavior from students, because in those moments, they do need to be told that they will be accountable for their actions against me. However, there are times when true understanding does need to outshine scolding. I think of how much time I spend with kids each day, and how sometimes my students see me more than they see their own parents. Again, I remember my professor’s words speaking loudly to me, reminding me to especially be abundant in the words I choose to uplift, encourage, or praise. His words remind me to improve myself for them, my students. However, there are moments when I’m not at my best and wish that I could be more patient in the most needed times.
Along with the lesson of imperfection from my professor, the gift of storytelling has helped me bring the gap of humanness in my students. My students tend to only see the professional part of me when I’m sitting in front of them, conversing, teaching, analyzing their work. However, at times, in sharing personal stories about my life, my children, or my teaching experiences, they are drawn to the human part of my story — when they see that I am not perfect, when I need forgiveness too, and when I can grow into a better person, even at my age. Sometimes, they will look at me different, but not in the way you would expect. They begin to open up more, relate my story to their own, and see me more connected to them. More human.
I still think back to my time at my Christian college and I still highly respect my favorite professor. His words echo in my heart every day as a wife, a mother, and a teacher. The idea of humanness and imperfection are two concepts hard to discern, especially with the image of others which is, for the most part, very positive, (at least in my case). His words remind me also that in viewing others we need to be understanding and forgiving when others falter against us and when they are sincerely sorry for their actions.
I know that part of our perception of the world comes from our background, our beliefs, and our experiences in life. However, the idea of being good, righteous, loving, and compassionate human beings is inherent in at least most of us. I hope that at the end of our lives, we will have used the imperfect part of ourselves to create dearly loved selves, who forgive ourselves despite our mistakes, and continue to improve our ways and actions, not only because it’s what God expects of us, but because it’s what we expect most earnestly in ourselves. Maybe we will become that beloved husband, wife, dad, mom, son, daughter, or favorite teacher to one of our fellow humans despite our imperfections.
In our humanness, we strive for the goal of perfection. The trick as I see it is to continue trying to be the better self that we so wish to become despite our setbacks. Learning throughout a lifetime of trials and triumphs will make us the people we were meant to be. So imperfect, yet dearly loved.