Youth minister Doug Tooke recently gave a talk on “The Perfection of Imperfection.” In it he discussed how our quest to be perfect can lead to blame and shame. When we think that holiness means that we must be perfect, it can lead to self-criticism and despair. He challenged listeners to “be a candid Polaroid in a Photoshopped world.”
Social media increases this emphasis on being perfect. I can’t even tell you how many times scrolling through Facebook becomes a near occasion of sin for me. As someone who has always struggled with insecurity (pride) and envy, it is hard for me to see all the posts of people whose lives seem so much better and more successful than mine. It is not even a case of my not being happy for their successes. I am truly happy that my friends are doing well. It simply triggers my internal voice that points out (loudly and repeatedly) all the ways my life is not going well, even though I know that, behind the surface, those posting their highlight reel on Facebook have their own challenges. And yes, I confess pride and envy every single time I go to confession. I will probably be struggling with this until the day I die.
As a professional writer and editor, I need to present a professional persona on social media. That is the case for people in many careers. We need to show the world that we have it all together so that people will want to work with us. The modern world has made it so that each of us is a “brand” that needs to be cultivated and advertised. This emphasis on being a marketable product takes away some of our humanity. We can’t show our flaws or our imperfections. We enhance our selfies using filters to make ourselves look better. We take pictures of carefully curated sections of our homes so it looks like our living spaces are always clean and neat. We only share our moments of success so that no one knows about the hard times we might go through.
I’m certainly not telling you that you need to share all your personal troubles with everyone on social media, but we all need people we can be real with. In order to have true friendships and quality familial relationships, we need to be willing to open up and share our vulnerable spots. We need to admit that we are human and have flaws. We need to acknowledge our struggles and sins.
In his talk, Tooke talks about being willing to be imperfect with our children when passing on our faith. It is okay to let your children see you struggle sometimes. I think that this is especially true with teenagers. They need to know that even adults don’t have it all together. They need to see us admit we are wrong and ask for forgiveness. They need to see us pray for help in our moments of weakness. When our teens come to us with questions that we don’t have the answer to, we can admit we don’t know and offer to look for the answers with them. We don’t always have to be right. We can admit that we are works in progress just as our children are. We can acknowledge that, more than anything, we need God.
In a world full of airbrushed and filtered perfection, be willing to be the snapshot, especially with those closest to you. We humans are beautifully imperfect. It is through our cracks that God’s mercy and grace are able to shine through.
This post was inspired by Doug Tooke's "The Perfection of Imperfection" Talk in the OSV Talks series, a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the Church.