Embracing Imperfection

[ 30 ] Comments

by Bonnie

ShockMy missionary is home . . . early.

For many of you your first thought is pity for me because you assume he has a moral issue and that I’m embarrassed. Or perhaps he was poorly committed to a mission, like so many young men seem to be these days. Or ill-prepared in the first place.

That’s ok. I’ve been in your shoes. I’m not offended.

Luckily, he is surrounded by people who embraced him with open arms and soft hearts when he came home, not quite sure what he was supposed to do, or who he really was. He didn’t ask to come home, and his mission president didn’t want to let him go. He was sent home by Missionary Medical because he was suffering from anxieties so crippling that they were eating away at all of the good he had been able to accomplish in ten months. “Go home, stabilize, and come back,” they said. After a couple of tense weeks praying hourly for his safety, I couldn’t be happier to have him home where he can get therapy and recuperate from the self-torture the past few months have been.

And he’s doing so very well, settling in, searching for ways to serve, asking a lot of pointed, poignant questions about eternity, humbly accepting both that he is broken and that he won’t be forever.

What has surprised me more than any other thing has been the response of other people. Not the ones who have judged him, because I haven’t encountered even one person who has unveiled a sharpened opinion. It is the souls who have experienced this kind of brokenness who have come forward to privately ask how he is with eyes full of knowing tenderness because of their own wrenching experience, some of whom have deep and painful wounds even still.

Like the mother whose son was suffering from an undiagnosed heart condition and asthma, who was sent home unexpectedly, shamefully judged as lazy, on the day of his sudden departure sent to clean a filthy shed in his suit, then dropped off at the airport in only the filthy suit he was wearing, after his plane had departed, to sleep without food or contact or care, until the next day when he was finally, tearfully reunited with his family.

I will spare you more stories. Most mission presidents are not ex-military. I am certain missionary service is a growing place to send your child. It was for me. My son’s mission president was the perfect priesthood leader for him. Mental illness, as well as physical illness, simply tends to become more apparent in early adulthood and so it comes up for missionaries. As heart-rending as those shared experiences have been, I don’t think they’re the norm, and I embrace the opportunity to weep with those who have been hurt.

But what do we do with our broken?

I have a profound fascination with healing, and both my son and I have blessings that promise us gifts in this area. We have had experiences with healings in the past – profound ones. We believe. We have the faith to be healed.

Or do we?

Here he is, broken still. And here I am, broken in my own ways. Perhaps we don’t have the faith to be healed after all.

Nested strangely in a revelation on the Law (D&C 42), we read a few verses, out of the blue, about being healed. Priesthood callings are described, and the order of things laid out. The ten commandments are reiterated: “Thou Shalt Not.” Teach and prophesy by the spirt, and give of your properties in the Lord’s way. Then there is this:

And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy.

Always, all my life, I’ve read that and thought, “everything would be better if everyone just had the faith to be healed.” A few verses down it continues:

He who hath faith to see shall see. He who had faith to hear shall hear. The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.

You see? The goal is to be healed. We need to work harder at our faith. Our perfect society will come as we are individually perfected. We need to get on with it. There is something a little bit insufficient in lacking that faith, don’t you feel?

Last month as I prepared to write another encouraging letter to my son, far away, struggling with feelings of crushing inadequacy, I read those verses and saw something else.

And they who have not faith to do these things, but believe in me, have power to become my sons; and inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities.

It is easiest if everyone has the faith to be healed right now, but it is not eternally requisite.

I’ve been mulling this idea in my mind ever since, playing with it. My experiences have taught me that we bond better to one another when we are each a little bit broken, like a wound whose edges are sealed together by roughening the surfaces a bit before binding on a bandage and salve. We have a hard time trusting each other when we feel a distance between us, whether that distance is opportunity or skills or gifts or appearance or wit or health or wealth. In this sense, we are better broken – more likely to become one with each other.

What if some are healed, because of their faith, to stimulate faith, and others are not healed, because of their lack of faith, to stimulate faith, and it all works out the same anyway? What if that “lack” of faith isn’t a judgment at all, but simply a weakness waiting to be made strong, a gift of its own? What if one of the hidden glories of the Atonement is that if we stay in there no matter what happens, he will perfect us all in the end?

What if what matters in the end is whether we endured to believe in him?

In the last few weeks my heart has grown around these words:

And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy.

The hand of an enemy.

Is that how we serve those who are broken? Do we nourish them with an enemy’s hands?

I have had many opportunities to see my own Pharisaic tendencies, and the persistence of judgment (of thinking I know why other people suffer) is there, however deep, even as hard and long as I have tried to root it out. That image – an enemy’s hand feeding someone – will now never leave me.

All my life I have believed that embracing my own imperfection was selling out, giving up, and being a burden; that having faith was my best contribution to making myself lighter to bear, one less person who needed nourished by the tired few who have the inclination to minister and too many mouths to feed. I’ve learned to accept my inadequacies and needs as part of the roughening that makes it possible for us to be one.

And now I know that it’s not even the ideal that we are all healed, all filled with faith, all unburdened – now. I am more one with my dear friends who have unburdened souls regarding their pain, all made possible because my son has experienced pain. That shared pain is what unmasks us and proves that we are not enemies, that we can be trusted, and then allows us to heal with each other.

One day we will all be healed, and perhaps it will be because we once . . . weren’t.

The answer to the mortal Law, perfectly centered as a focal point for the chapter, is not perfection (perfect obedience, perfect faith, perfect immediate whatever) for its own sake, either physical or spiritual. It is this:

Thou shalt live together in love.

I’ve watched this video several times and I’m mesmerized. What would happen if we quit turning embarrassed eyes away from imperfection and embraced it within each other, nourishing each other with all tenderness and not by the hand of an enemy? Would all our ideals of beauty, comfortable (and important) though they are, be destroyed if we accepted the range of reality?

Is embracing imperfection a valid way to build perfection?

Pro Infirmis. It means “for the sick.” See if your heart grows three sizes too. It’s magical. Perhaps your hands too will be transformed, willing to nourish, patient to persevere with imperfection, no longer an enemy.

Wouldn’t that be perfect?

About Bonnie

Living life determined to skid sideways into the grave and say, "MAN, what a ride!"

30 Responses to Embracing Imperfection

  1. Michelle says:

    “Is embracing imperfection a valid way to build perfection?”

    I think it’s not only a valid way, but the only way.

    • Bonnie says:

      Everything has to go through the Atonement, doesn’t it? We have to embrace imperfection one way or another. Always love when you weigh in, Michelle.

  2. David says:

    The daughter of a friend bore her testimony in church last Sunday, home with her children to live at her parents home following her divorce. She is broken emotionally and spiritually by the impact of her failed marriage but had the courage to stand in front of the congregation to not only explain why she was returning home but to declare that her faith has survived the experience. How my heart broke for her! Regardless, I felt an increase of love toward her in her humility and brokenness. As Kenneth Cope wrote, “God loves broken things.”

    • Bonnie says:

      And it stimulates Godlike love within us to love each other when we’re broken, doesn’t it? What a kind heart you had to understand her divinity instead of judging her causes.

  3. Susan Woodbury says:

    THIS ….. This entry is what is perfect. Thank you… Again for knowing what I needed. And especially knowing what your valiant son needs. The Lord requies if us broken hearts and contrite spirits and willing desire. Even those words…broken, contrite, willing imply imperfection. Imperfection can be worked with. Perfection needs no Savior. I love you. I love your mind and I LOVE your heart. Please thank your son for being true to himself and allowing himself to seek healing over pride. I will strive to search the “soul” of my hands more honestly. Blessings to you dear friend

    • Bonnie says:

      Love you TOO Susan! It’s the bugaboo of a faith that teaches us to strive for perfection that we must keep ourselves hopeful even as we see ourselves falling continually short and never quit striving by thinking we’ve arrived (even though that would be so restful). He really is my inspiration through this process, holding in lovely balance his worth as a son of God with his wounds that challenge him and reaching out to encourage others.

  4. Becky says:

    I was surprised to read that he could go back. My nephew came home due to anxiety too and he was told these things don’t get better usually and that he would not be going back. His is not a happy ending, but it sounds like your son has the right help and attitudes. Good luck to both of you. I enjoyed reading this and it helped me in my life.

    • Bonnie says:

      It’s very mission-specific and even missionary-specific. I’m so sorry your nephew’s story didn’t have a happy ending … yet. I am praying that the Lord will consecrate his intents and give him a surprise blessing. I’ve talked to a couple of people in the last week who had later epiphanies that the Lord opened up something to them specifically because they couldn’t go back.

  5. JHS says:

    I was recently discussing faith with my mom. I am currently dealing with some medical conditions and I told her that I’ve been wondering if I had greater faith would I be able to be healed. Is it my lack of faith that keeps me from being healed. I have always felt like I had a lot of faith, so I’d been mulling these thoughts over and over in my head. I am grateful for my mother’s kind, wise, and thoughtful rebuke. She told me that we, as humans, focus on having enough faith to be healed. But, that is not how we should view faith. We need to have faith to accept the Lord’s will for us. Maybe His will is to heal us, but maybe it isn’t. Our faith should always be in the Savior, in His plan for us, in His all wise and all knowing love for us. And for me, this principle rang true! I do have faith in my Savior and I do have faith that He knows all that is best for me. If I have enough faith to walk the path that He needs me to walk, then all will be right. I have faith to accept His will for me, whether that is to be free of this infirmity or not. Now I know my faith is sufficient! I had just wrongly put my faith in “healing” and not in the Savior’s will.

    • Bonnie says:

      A friend pointed this out to me as well, that the faith to not be healed, to accept that the Lord has a good that he can do with us through our brokenness, is a vital part of our overall love and trust in the Lord. I have felt that in my own life – that I can do much more good single than married – and so I have learned to accept that that blessing is not mine for the time being. Blessings to you as you walk a sometimes lonely and trying path! What a blessing to have such a wise mother and to be humble enough to receive what she has to share.

  6. ji says:

    I appreciate the original posting. More and more I come to believe that the most important things are faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and charity in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your posting touched on all three.

    When others think of Later-day Saints, I don’t want them to think of us as the church with no smoking or the church with a prophet — I want them to think of us as the church where faith, hope, and charity are found in abundance.

    May God bless you and your son. And all of us.

    • Bonnie says:

      Oh, I so agree! May we be a church of love, not a church of Thou Shalt Nots. I’m quite fond of the idea that Faith is loving God, Hope is receiving God’s love, and Charity is loving like God. Everything is love, the background radiation of the universe. We need our boundaries, but heaven forbid that we are known only by them.

  7. Anne says:

    I am not making light of your son’s illness when I give you my tiny 2 cents, nor am I missing the actual purpose/message of your post. I just feel compelled to share what I have learned. I am profoundly affected by sugar. When I am mentally strong enough to keep sugar out of my diet, I am far less anxious and dark than I when do include sugar as part of my diet. I know that simple solution is not a solution for all, but it may be worth a try. As you quoted, we’re advised to use “herbs and mild food.” Perhaps limiting some of the harsher foods can help, too.

    • Bonnie says:

      Anne, I don’t think you’re making light at all. He has a tendency to hypoglycemia, so in the weeks before he came home that was the substance of my communication with the medical sisters who do such a good job trying to help our missionaries be healthy. I had just sent him a new diet and a few supplements to bring his sugars back into balance when Missionary Medical decided to send him home. After a few days of watching him I’m pretty sure it’s not his primary cause, but it certainly had to be eliminated. In his case being a district leader (with a driven schedule that he hasn’t had the chance to learn how to handle) and having a companion with some sincere challenges and not being able to talk to anyone on a regular basis to flush his frustrations all combined with the season to skyrocket his stress. He’s learning some coping skills now in a less stressful environment and is excited to take them back with him and try again. But the diet those missionaries eat … oh my holy. It would make any of us depressed!

  8. Robin says:

    Love you, have missed your posts. Pass along my love to your missionary, too.

  9. Dale Orr says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this important message. I love the inspired references you gave and drove me to ponder a lot of different things.

    Always the best to you and your great family.

  10. Stephanie Frampton says:

    I have suffered from anxiety and depression for some time and I want to thank you for making my day a bit brighter today…Broken has never been acceptable to me until I read this post. Of course I have always been broken because we all are as mortals, but to me, I was really broken beyond just being mortal. I am broken because I cannot love my step daughter with all of my heart like I love my own children and that has caused me intense guilt everyday but after reading this post, I am making a visual of some of this article to frame and put on my dresser to remind me that she is broken and so am I, but I can still love her and not with the “enemy’s hand” but with my own broken hand that wants to love her and believes that the Savior does love her and together if we just have faith and endure to believe in Him then all will be well and we will someday live a life where broken really is the best way to be. Thank you again for posting these intimate experiences that we may be fed as well.

    • Bonnie says:

      Stephanie, you couldn’t possibly know how close your response hit to my own life. I too had a step-daughter and our lives were broken in so many ways. I learned a great deal from that ten year period and still do as I look back. Everything is always about love, but it’s also about time. Thank heavens for that. I am grateful you found a measure of resolve and direction. Jesus Christ is our friend in all things! His hands, loving and kind, are stretched out to us in our stumbling attempts.

  11. Found this post because my friend shared it on FB. Powerful and insightful writing. And the video adds something impossible to put into words. The freedom that comes with embracing imperfection is such a relief. I love your analogy of two rough pieces having the ability to bond more easily. Thank you for this post, and God bless you and your family.

    • Bonnie says:

      Glad you found us, Aaron, and thank you. Freedom is the perfect way to describe this kind of heart-opening, mind-opening seeing. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” In so many ways, it’s about expanding what we are willing to perceive. Thank you so much for the blessings! I am grateful kind people stop by and leave them. Blessings to you and yours as well.

  12. britt says:

    Thank you for sharing such a tender experience. Bless you and your son. What a challenge! I’m glad he is getting the support he needs right now. Any chance to love and be loved is a part of his mission! bless him for being willing to serve AND being able to receive help!

    I have thought a lot about how we can bond well when we are broken. Obviously the atonement is bonding with a perfect individual. How does that fit? I have wondered if we bond best when we are honest. When we are completely truthful. for all of us…that’s tons and varied imperfection! For Christ, that is perfection!

    • Bonnie says:

      I thought about that too as I was writing, Britt. How does the metaphor extend? Does Christ (or did Christ) roughen up his own edges to bond with us, all before we were even born, time conflated in those intense moments like space bending in on itself? I think honesty is the foundation for all true healing and without it our wound gapes back open again. What would it be like to be bonded to so many different ones of us? How we can connect to one another through Christ!

  13. Carin says:

    Thanks for this post Bonnie. I have noticed that many of us (all…in the church and out of the church) tend to look at what we can see in another’s life and we make determinations/judgements about their lives and comparisons to our own lives in order to make sense of the world around us and contribute to evaluating where we are. Sometimes those things are helpful and motivating, sometimes they are guilt inducing and depressing. Most often, they are wrong.

    I am so very grateful that the Lord looketh on the heart, that He knows our personalities, circumstances, knowledge, desires perfectly and that the trials and life experiences we go through do bring us, if we let them, closer to Christ. Sometimes part of that process is growing through the criticism of others, sometimes that is having the faith to be healed, sometimes it is allowing weak things to become strong and fighting with faith while things are not healed, as we also learn to endure to the end.

    Life has just taught me that I cannot really ever know what another person is going through because I am not them, with their past, present, or future. I can only listen and hear with my heart. The other thing, is that I agree with you. We are all broken in some way and when we have enough courage to share our brokenness with others, and they see our private struggles, hearts are united.

    Our society, currently, wants us to stand tall and strong, to do it on our own and make our own way, to be independent, to hide our weaknesses. However, even though independence is important to develop, I think the Lord wants us to learn a stronger way, interdependence. If our hearts and minds are linked with His and then with each other, we cannot fail, because even in our brokenness others will bear us up. Then we will do the same for them, when/if the time is needed. As in all things, there has to be the balance, all the while relying on the Atonement on either end.

    Best of luck to you and your son as your family learns through this and future trials. I hope it ends in the happy ending you both desire, ‘But if not…..’ (Conference Address, April 2004, Elder Simmons) I am sure it will contribute to growth and learning and probably already has. Thank you for sharing your private struggles. We all have them.

    • Bonnie says:

      Yes, we do. Thanks for your thoughts, Carin. I have grown many, many times through the criticism of others, as often as through realizations that came more comfortably. We press forward happily lately, taking the opportunity to rest our souls a bit as we search. The road less traveled and all.

  14. Thanks for posting this. My son came home early last year after struggling with depression in the mission field. It was a challenging time, but I was reminded of one important thing I already knew: our lives are not cookie-cutter lives. Our challenges are different, but Heavenly Father stands by us through them all.

  15. Matt says:

    Bonnie,

    I appreciate your words.

    Accepting my weakness has been so difficult. I want to prove to everyone, especially myself, that there is nothing wrong with me.

    Miracles occurred in my life once I not only accepted my imperfection, but embraced it. It is a completely different way of living. I love it.

    Matt

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