Growing up I loved to read the Christmas newsletters and cards my parents would receive. From all across the United States they would pour in, spinning their beautiful tales of promotions, graduations, and vacations. Magical moments captured in dream like perfection. And then social media came with Facebook and blogs to give us that same feeling year round, perfect lives captured in perfectly composed pictures. And then Pinterest. Pinterest is like those old Christmas newsletters played at high-speed while a disco ball throws light to every corner of our imagination. Everything is insanely, impossibly perfect. It’s a world in which recipes for dessert after dessert can live side by side with pictures of flat stomachs. Where rain boots are lined up by the door with no hints of melting snow or mud or rain beneath them. A world in which children’s rooms can have white bedding.
Even back in my childhood I knew when I read those Christmas newsletters that they weren’t the whole story. That theirs were a varnished truth. A slight retelling where Joseph wasn’t sold by his brothers into slavery but rather was seeking career advancements overseas. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think dreamy perfection is lovely sometimes. But it can get overwhelming, if we start to believe in it a little too much.
And so, it’s to this world I’d like to offer my defense, my defense of the imperfect story. The ones that start out not with a stride but with a stumble. The ones that have messy middles that don’t make sense. The ones that don’t come with a golden ribbon ending. At least not one we’ve seen yet.
There was a time I thought that if I lived my life in a Christ-like way, if I followed Him and trusted Him and did what the Bible told me I would have a perfect story. That I would have that Pinterest life. That the beginning, middle, and end would be pristine. I think parenting books are especially deceptive when it comes to this. If we do this and that and another thing our children will grow up, make perfect choices, follow the same religious path we did, find wonderful jobs and give us beautiful grandchildren.
I now believe this to be a wrong. I don’t believe the path God is walking next to us on is meant to be perfect. That’s it’s meant to be flawless. I think it’s meant to be messy. When I watch my child dig his hands into his yoghurt and rub it all over his hair and face and arms and chest I can either see only the imperfection, or I can see the story. The story of a love of texture, of explorations, of finding out how this world works. I believe that’s how God sees us. Still in the story. The beautiful, imperfect, messy story.
Imperfect stories give us moments to treasure. Imperfect gives us humor. Imperfect gives struggle and triumph, pain and healing. Imperfect stories are stories that have movement, stories that swell to high notes where the world dances with us and then lowers to soft ones that only our own ears can hear. Imperfect stories gave us a baby not born in an inn, but born in a manger. It gave us a figure to follow who isn’t about law but love. And that story gives me hope. Hope that love is stronger than hatred, that light can find its way into every corner of isolation and loneliness. That good overcomes evil and kindness overcomes indifference. That people care about each other. That we’re all thrown here in this world with it’s flaws but we’re still living.
We don’t need perfection, we need acceptance of the imperfect. We need to be okay with the tears and the questions and the not understanding. The life that doesn’t quite fit in that Christmas newsletter. We need to own our imperfect stories as something divine, treasured, and worth celebrating. And that can be hard, so hard when you’re in the middle and the messiness is overwhelming. Where life seems like nothing but a series of those very lowest of the low notes and we find ourselves singing words that only we can understand. But those moments don’t stand alone. They exist as part of the bigger story. The imperfection doesn’t mar the story, it IS the story. It’s meant to be lived.
Christmas brings us the story of a god taking human form. Becoming a baby and living a life of love. His story wasn’t one of fanfare and trumpets, glory and triumph. It was a quiet life, a simple life, but a life of love. And love is what makes every imperfect story ultimately perfect.