Leaving Room for Grace

The Blessings of Imperfection

Craig C. Roshaven          

Delivered July 14, 1996 at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church

1959 Sandy Lane; Fort Worth, TX, 76112

We live in a world which keeps telling us we need more, more, more... 

We need this soap or that car or that music.  Those of us who drink 

beer are about to be convinced that we don't need just beer, we need 

fresh beer.  In what Newsweek described "as the oldest trick in 

marketing: "Create a need then answer it." Anheuser-Busch, the 

nation's biggest brewer, starting this week will label each can and 

bottle of Bud with a birth date and a warning to drink up before 110 


This is just one small example of how marketing works.  We used to go 

to the store to get what we needed.  Now, thanks to the success of 

such marketing tricks, we go to see what we need.  Marketers are 

always helping me discover needs I didn't know I had.  Everything is 

new and improved. Whether it is $100+ tennis shoes to tennis rackets 

to clothes, the American economy depends on our susceptibility to new 

needs we didn't know we had.

I can laugh at those foolish souls who need to buy the latest 

designer tennis shoes, but I shouldn't laugh too heartily for I know 

I'm not immune. I know that when I read computer magazines I will 

soon become dissatisfied with my present computer and yearn for 

today's new and improved model. I also know it wasn't that long ago 

when my present computer seemed to meet all my needs.    

I know that I'm just as likely as anyone else to look wistfully and 

longingly over the fence at the greener grass on the other side.  I 

know that comparing myself to others unfailingly leads me into 

feeling either smug or wanting, yet, despite this knowledge, I still 

find that I compare myself to others.

Our pace of life has increased.  More of us are working longer hours 

and more families with young children have both parents working 

outside the home.  It is tempting to imagine that we must work longer 

and harder just to keep up, but the reality is that it takes more to 

satisfy us than it took to satisfy our parents.  It wasn't so long 

ago that a family would feel satisfied about a home of 1,500 square 

feet and one car. Nobody builds 1,500 square feet homes anymore.  

And, can you even imagine, getting by on just one car?   Dishwashers, 

microwaves, bigger kitchens and refrigerators, two-car garages, 2.5 

baths, separate bedrooms for each child: today, many take all these 

amenities for granted.

Our children are busier.  Soccer, drama, summer camp, scouts.  One of 

the most time-consuming aspects of being a parent is shuttling the 

kids from one activity to another. 

But, yet...despite all these material advances, despite all the 

opportunities for enrichment and recreation we now enjoy, despite the 

pleasures of fresh beer, we are not happy.  More of us are depressed 

or anxious, more of us are addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex, more 

of us feel threatened by crime and violence.

Like Mick Jagger complained so many years ago, We "can't get no 


Did you ever have an itch that wouldn't go away?  An itch, that the 

more you scratched, the more it itched?  I feel that way about my 

urge to consume, to have, to do, to get, to buy.  It seems like the 

more I have the more I want.

Madison avenue just keeps getting better at making us itch and we 

keep scratching and scratching and scratching.  When I was younger, I 

was limited as to how much I could buy by the fact that I ran out of 

money.  But, nowadays, I'm not sure whether it's because I earn more 

or if it's because banks have gone crazy, everyone is offering to 

help me keep scratching my itch by giving me credit!  Every week I 

receive several offers in the mail or on the phone to get another 

credit card!  

We live in a time of isolation and fear.  We don't know our neighbors 

and we are frightened and discouraged by the string of disasters 

reported on the evening news and the front page.  We are frustrated 

and discouraged by the difficulties and  challenges of our 

institutions.  We are cynical about politicians and the media and we 

can readily sympathize with the comic character of Dilbert, the 

corporate everyman, who sadly but wisely observes, "It's obvious you 

won't survive by your wits alone."

We often feel that we can't win.  Indeed, I believe we can't win 

because the game isn't designed for us.  The purpose of the American 

dream as presented today is not to help us lead happy, productive 

lives. The purpose is keep us spending money.  We are like hamsters 

on a wheel in a cage--frantically running for all we're worth--

convinced that since we're moving so fast we must be getting 

somewhere.  But it's all an illusion.  We're told again and again and 

again--buy more, have more, do more--this is the way to self-

fulfillment.  It's a lie!

I can only be fulfilled by being much, not by having much or doing 

much.  I am a human being--not a human doing.

This is the central truth of what has been called the perennial 

philosophy-the core truth of all the great religions.  Fulfillment 

comes from seeking wisdom and wholeness instead of pursuing worldly 

goods and acclaim. Wisdom and wholeness come from focusing on being 

instead of having.  Fulfillment comes when we turn away from the 

false promises of the secular world and turn instead to the wisdom of 

the sages.

I have been and still am often tempted by what passes for 

conventional wisdom: that fulfillment depends on money and status and 

having my heart's desire.  I am not immune from the dominant message 

of our culture.  But I have found that what helps me turn away from 

the glitter and the hype are the classic spiritual disciplines of 

meditation, prayer, and contemplation.  I have found that I need to 

set aside time to be mindful, to reflect.  I need to stop--to slow 

down--to, in the words of the poet, Walt Whitman, "To loaf and invite 

my soul."  I need the discipline of a spiritual practice to help me 

become centered and whole. In the words of the Catholic theologian 

Henri Nouwen, "Through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world 

from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left 

to listen."

I use several classical spiritual disciplines to give myself the 

space I need listen.  The standard discipline of meditation with its 

technique of counting breaths is one I use often.  I simply count to 

ten and begin again.  If I become distracted and lose count, I simply 

begin again with one.  The purpose of counting is to help me be here 

now, to, in the words of the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, "be 

mindful." Focusing all my attention on my breathing helps me avoid 

thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow.  I have learned 

that I can use this method of centering myself even at odd moments 

and in odd places: sitting in the dentist's chair, walking from place 

to place, or anytime I am required to wait.

Another method I use to center myself is prayer.  Again, I've 

discovered that I can pray at odd times and odd places just as well 

as I can in church on Sunday morning. The qualities I pray for 

include serenity, insight, understanding, and self-acceptance. I 

understand the purpose of my prayer to be the transformation of 

myself rather than the transformation of others.

Another method I use is affirmation.  An affirmation is a positive 

statement about myself and others that I repeat to myself.  An 

affirmation doesn't describe the world as it is so much as it 

describes the world that could be.  I use the same affirmation 


The presence of God surrounds me.  The love of God unfolds me.  

The power of God flows through me. Wherever I am, God is, and 

all is well.

Finally, I find it helpful to read wisdom literature, writings from 

sacred traditions and spiritual leaders such as Thich Nhat Hanh or 

Meister Eckhart.  A wonderful source of such literature is a book 

called God in All Worlds: An anthology of contemporary spiritual 

writings. It's edited by Lucinda Vardey and contains an unusually 

wide assortment of spiritual wisdom grouped in the following broad 

categories: Quest, revelation, trials, and awe.  Contributors include 

Krishnamurti, Thomas Merton, Vaclav Havel, Martin Buber, Hans Kung, 

and the Dalai Lama.  I find that reading just a few selections a day 

helps me remember that wealth and status are not the keys to 


One of the recent insights I've gained is the importance of being 

unfulfilled.  I've realized that I'm always going to feel 

unfulfilled, I'm always going to feel at least a little empty and 

unsatisfied.  That is the human condition. It has been said, "One's 

reach will always exceed one's grasp, else what's a heaven for?"  To 

be human is to be both blessed and cursed with the gift of 

consciousness and imagination.  Our self-awareness gives us the 

ability to recognize how we are isolated and alone as well as how we 

are connected and a part of.  Our imagination gives us the ability to 

envision perfection, a perfection we can never achieve. As a result, 

I am always going to feel incomplete, I can always imagine how it 

could be while at the same time I am aware of what is.

I am imperfect. I am inevitably imperfect.  An imperfect creature 

that, nonetheless, is capable of imagining perfection, only to find 

it forever beyond my reach.  I can attempt to complete myself by 

having much, by winning the acclaim of others, by attempting to 

satisfy all my appetites.  But that is the way of emptiness.  That is 

the way of the many, the broad and easy path, the path that leads 

nowhere and to nothing.  But there is another path, a narrow path, 

the path to which many are called, but which few follow, the path 

that leads to wholeness and integrity, the path of wisdom, the path 

of grace.

I cannot find my way to that path by own lights.  All I can do is 

turn away from the clamoring voices and the bright lights of Vanity 

Fair and faithfully, patiently wait for the way to the Celestial City 

to be revealed.  By turning away from the false promises, by not 

trying to fill my emptiness with things, by being at peace with my 

imperfection, by tolerating my inevitable emptiness, I leave room for 

grace,the blessing of imperfection.  It's only when I accept my 

impefection that I am graced with the gifts of fulfillment and peace 

and serenity and love, gifts that come from some source greater than 


Leaving Room for Grace The Blessings of Imperfection Craig C. Roshaven Delivered July 14, 1996 at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church 1959 Sandy Lane; Fort Worth, TX, 76112