I’ve not considered myself a perfectionist, but recently I’ve done some reading that has shaken that theory. I was recently introduced to a new author, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen who wrote “Kitchen Table Wisdom”, where she shares her wisdom and learning from decades of listening to patients and helping those with a cancer diagnosis.
Remen writes “Perfectionism is the belief that life is broken.” That was a new thought for me, for I have long believed and spoke of the world being a broken place. I think her point is that we tend to look at what is broken and are constantly trying to fix it, instead of seeing life as the beautiful gift it is. And often our efforts are futile and exhausting. This can be a joy-robber.
I thought of this, in this week of challenge. There is so much sad news, so much grief and despair, it is hard to know how to respond. In my own small world, I was having a bad day, almost ashamed of this fact in the midst of such suffering. I was overcome by my own chronic pain, which is hard to manage some days. My beloved rose garden had attracted bugs again, and what really upset me was the roses had all gone wild, all the same shade of ugly red, not the brilliant oranges and vibrant peach colour I had planted. My mother loved roses, and was good with them, and I miss her, in this anniversary month where she has been gone 8 years. Surely she’d know what to do.
I recently read another book, “This small window” by Melody Goetz, a lovely book of stories she told as she spent time with elders in a seniors facility where she worked. The book takes place in the Fraser Valley, so it felt close to home.
The gem I wanted to share came from one of the stories where she asks an elderly lady on a momentous birthday occasion what her secret to life is. And her life had been full of challenges. This senior paused and said
“Your whole life is an acceptance, really”
What did she mean? I’ve thought about it. Her acceptance wasn’t a denial of the challenges she had faced. Rather, it seemed to me, she had come to peace and could see life as a gift, rather than a burden. In the midst of her losses, she accepted what was, what she couldn’t change, with serenity.
I’ve thought about that a lot these last weeks as I ponder my responses to life. One of the things I’ve learned is to listen to people’s stories. Both of these books are full of listening and learning. In my ministry as a chaplain it is important to remember to listen, to be present. I hear stories of pain, of suffering, but also of great courage and perseverance. My role is to be present, to be compassionate. It is not my job to fix it.
In the present tragedy, where we weep with our Indigenous people and listen, we need to hear the sad, horrific, heartbreaking stories. No, we can’t fix it. But we can learn from it. We can acknowledge their pain, and listen.
In talking about finding acceptance, I want to be careful. This is about inner peace. There is a time to speak out for justice, to advocate for mercy, even a time to be angry. What we do with that anger is so important.
How to respond? It is to find that inner peace and contentment that isn’t a result of a perfect life, but the every day enjoying the moments and lifting up gratitude. It is to listen to those who suffer, whose stories need to be told.
I keep going back to the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.