Of late I’ve been reflecting on the nature of “words.” I’m very curious about what it is about a word that gives it its substance. I’d like to know how a word “becomes.” Why, for example, was the word “aardvark” devised to name a rather unusual animal with body armor? More importantly, what is it about SOME words that make them so loaded?
Think about it. Apart from the thought a word is designed to convey it is not a thing. It has no physical substance and yet can have incredible power. Complex language is arguably the thing that sets human being apart from the rest of creation. Language allows us to share our thoughts and interact with our world at a level of sophistication far beyond that of our fellow creatures. With a word, events can be set into motion that are either life building or life taking. A poorly chosen word, or a word used too casually, can be devastating.
Consider the word “perfect.” We like something, find it appealing or beautiful and we call it “perfect.” Truth be told, there are lots of “perfect” things that touch us. Imagine the perfect sunset, the sweet cooing of a sleeping babe, that smile that comes just at the right moment. Perfect, rightly used expresses a sense of awe and appreciation. It’s a good word. But what happens when it is used wrongly? Our culture is replete with messages that seem to suggest that we are not ok as we are and we need to nip, tuck, diet, or paint our way to the “more perfect us.” Advertisers are masters at sewing dissatisfaction. They make millions practicing the art of convincing us that whatever we have is less than ideal. Their goal is not improving our lives. Rather their aim is to convince us to spend our money. These messages play at our insecurities and our natural desire for a good life. There is nothing wrong with buying that new car or wiz bang toy if you can afford to do so. The important question to ask is “why?” The 9th and 10th commandments can help us out there—I’m just saying.
What we own, do or achieve is not what makes us or our lives “perfect.” I’m convinced that our society’s obsession with perfection is one of the real issues of our time, and it’s not healthy. Truth be told, there are no perfect folk—least wise according to the world’s image of perfect. This particular expectation of perfection is perhaps the cruelest thing we do to ourselves and each other.
What then makes for a perfect life? Only you can answer that for yourself, but for me it is a life lived with integrity, filled with love, becoming, and the love and grace of God. I guess I have to say I am relieved by the knowledge that I don’t have to be perfect according to the standards of others. I’m just fine as an imperfect but beloved child of God. By the way, so are you.
Here’s something to think about--what if our imperfections are actually an essential part of our humanity? What if we actually need them? There have been many attempts to create utopias, but none have survived. Here’s an experiment. What would happen if we stopped using the word “perfect” so casually? What if we reserve that one for describing the love of God? Is there a word that lets us celebrate our unique humanity just as it is? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
So think about it, what’s in a word? More to come….