April 11, 2008

Be Our Guest / Patti Lamb

In this world, there is no ‘perfect’

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who moved, and she told me that after an arduous search she had finally found the perfect house in Chicago.

The neighborhood was quaint, the school district was great, and if she and her husband could just win the bidding war in which they were battling with another family, then she’d be so happy.

“It’s the perfect house for our family,” she told me. “The absolute perfect house.”

She went on to describe the hardwood floors and recently updated kitchen.

This morning, she phoned me and was completely disappointed. The other family had won the bidding duel and she was at a loss.

“It would’ve been so perfect,” she said. Her husband’s drive to work would have been less than 45 minutes, and she had already pictured walking their children to school, just blocks away from home.

She was obviously disappointed, and we talked for more than an hour about the whole issue.

All that kept coming to my mind was an excerpt from a reflection on the Stations of the Cross that I had heard not more than a few weeks prior. It went something like this: “In this world, there will always be trouble. But by his death and resurrection, Jesus has conquered this world.”

I got to thinking about how many times I say to myself, “If I could just get through this and that, then I’ll be happy.” I began to recall petitions about everything from my son’s bout with a neurological issue to resolving a petty dispute with a family member.

I didn’t like the pattern I was noticing in my own prayers: If what I want happens, then I’ll be happy. Then everything will be perfect.

But I’m kidding myself. In this world, there is no “perfect.” God’s kingdom is not of this world. And when the one intention for which I would pray might finally come to fruition, then I’d only pray for something else and something more.

This reflection reminded me of a good friend. She’s not even 40 years old, and she’s seen tougher days than I can fathom. She has lost both her husband and a child to illness, yet she is one of the most positive people I know.

I finally gathered the wherewithal to ask her candidly, “How do you do it? How do you keep going on like nothing is wrong?”

Her response: “What else am I going to do? Curl up in a ball? You have to keep going. I’m happy and content because I choose to be. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. Not here, honey.”

She is so right—this is not heaven, it’s not our final destination. This is not our home. Life will never be perfect. There will always be heartache, illness, poverty, fighting and crosses that seem too much to bear.

But we’ve got to do our best to move forward, despite all the setbacks, and remember Psalm 118, verse 24: “This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

We’ve got to keep an eye out for those glimpses of heaven that come in an unexpected variety of forms.

A month or so ago, we had a sunny, 60-degree day—right in the middle of winter. And I thought to myself, “This is a little glimpse of heaven. God is reminding us that winter is not forever, and spring and new life are just around the corner.”

So I’m trying my hardest to be done with “perfect.” Perfect teeth. Perfect score. Perfect season. Perfect job. Perfect couple. Phooey. Perfect is not of this world.

And I’m trying as much as I can to quit comparing myself with others. My husband reminds me that comparing ourselves with others is always a losing game.

Yes, we’ll always be able to name someone who has something more or something better. But what about the half of the world’s population that lives on less than $2 a day? What about the quarter of the world’s population that doesn’t have electricity? What about those who have to walk miles to get clean, fresh water?

Then I start to feel ashamed for ever having started the comparison game. We are all so blessed.

I think we’ve got to take what God has given us and cultivate it. My brother once said he thinks that is what we’ll be judged on. He believes that when we meet our Maker, he will ask, “What did you do with what you were given? Did you cultivate it and use your unique gifts and talents or did you bury your head in the sand? Did you make the world better, if only in your own zip code? If only in your own neighborhood? Then enter into my kingdom!”

So the next time I find myself wishing for better, for more, for perfect, I’ll try to remember that this is not my final destination. This is not my home, and it’s certainly not the end.

There’s so much more, as we’re told in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

This imperfect world is all that we know right now. And to me, that’s the real miracle of Easter: by his death and resurrection, Jesus has conquered this world.

(Patti Lamb is a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield.)†

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