Incurable is your wound,
grievous your bruise;
There is none to plead your cause,
no remedy for your running sore,
no healing for you.
Oh you of little faith, Christ gently rebukes Peter in today's Gospel, why did you doubt?
I, like Peter, spend most of my life dipping one toe into the water, and demanding: is that you, Lord? Is that you I see? If so, command me to take the plunge. Only then, when I am absolutely sure that it is the Lord calling me, do I attempt the walk across the lake.
I wait until success is assured, because I do not want to fail. I want to approach each situation equipped with the right answer, I want to encounter each person knowing exactly what it is they need me to say, I want to Get All the Answers Right. I want to rest assured in my own power to discern truth and enact it in every situation. I want to have a grasp on reality. To know what to expect from the world, and respond accordingly.
That is, unfortunately, not how life works. Anytime that I am certain that something offers me The Solution, I ought to be wary of it. There is no perfect political candidate. There is no perfect fix for poverty or way to respond to each person in poverty I meet around me. There is no perfect fix to relationships, to uncertainty, to the problems--tiny and large--that plague our world. My search for perfection is ultimately not a search for God.
Ultimately, my search for perfection is simply a search for myself. It is not a search for the wide, deep, uncomfortable vastness of reality. It is not an attempt to find the tantalizing dawn of Truth in the otherness of the world around me, it is simply an attempt to find all of the answers inside of me. It is, fundamentally, simply a deeper pursuit of self. And not the kind of pursuit of self that leads to growing more deeply into who we authentically are, but the kind of pursuit of self that limits us. Ironically, we grow more deeply into our authentic personhood when we pursue someone besides self.
Holiness is not perfection, it is completion. And one of the a priori truths of the search for completion is that I am not complete. I am not perfect. The search for completion acknowledges that I am--praise God--lacking. All the answers in the universe are not contained inside of myself. If I find myself weak, if I find myself a failure, if I find myself falling, then my response should not be surprise or discouragement, but Joy. For my weaknesses show me just how deeply I am lacking, and how much more I need to reach for God.
When you feel humiliated and foolish because some undertaking in which you did your honest best has turned out disastrously–then it may be, to your astonishment, someone will tell you that you helped most, did your most fruitful work. When our ego is humbled and not obstructing, God’s creative Spirit can often have freer play. Like the bare trees, it may be that we allow the glory to shine through at these times more purely than in our summer prosperity. --Maria Boulding
Maria Boulding, in her beautiful meditation on failure, Gateway to Hope, writes that there must be nothing between ourselves and God. God will not rest until we rely on nothing but God alone. We cannot cling to the life-preserver of even our own ego.
Lord, save me! I cry along with Peter, and find that the Hand of God is already reaching for me, lifting me out of the stormy water. It is not that we cannot keep trying to swim. It is that, in the darkest moments, in the stormiest moments, perhaps it is only the hand of God that is the solution to our floundering. Our dog paddling is insufficient to get us to where we want to go. Because where we want to go is not just a destination we can steer our way towards stubbornly. It is a relationship. It requires us to give, to take, to listen. It demands generosity on our part, and we must allow God to be generous to us in return. We must accept the saving hand that He offers to us.
Perhaps that is part of the mystery of accepting the salvation of God. It is a very real surrender. A surrender of our striving for perfection, and accepting instead His completeness. There is no sure-fire path to completion, there is no formula we can rely on—there is only grace and life in God, because life in God is the ultimate end of all our striving.