Last week’s column was about the futility of seeking perfection with too much intensity. This week we’re going in the opposite direction and exploring some advantageous aspects of imperfection. I’m not suggesting we celebrate our shortcomings, but there are lessons to be learned when circumstances are not what we consider ideal.
Sometimes I wonder if God created male pattern baldness to help keep men humble. I’m not sure there’s any part of the aging process that’s bothered me more than hair loss. It’s hard to believe I once needed a blow dryer to get the dampness out of my ample brown locks. A hand towel can now readily address the sparse gray hairs. If towels needed water to survive, mine would perish.
Early in the process of thinning hair, my favorite barber-wife combination reluctantly agreed to give me a buzz cut. A few days afterward, a hair-stylist friend I hadn’t seen in several years stopped by the bank. When BJ told me I was looking good, I made a light-hearted mention of my eroding scalp coverage.
“You don’t need it,” she said with conviction and a warm smile. I knew she was lying, and I knew that she knew she was lying, but it was funny and uplifting and struck me as a perfect response to my flirtation with chagrin. Later reflections on her kind, clever line helped me realize she was right.
BJ was referring mostly to my looks, I believe, but I eventually began to think about what she said in a broader sense. Hair doesn’t define us unless we let it. It doesn’t change who we are or affect what’s in our hearts. It doesn’t impact faith, family, health, or anything that really matters.
So, that’s why every now and then, when I’m tempted to mourn the loss of my hair, I look in the mirror and address the skeptic who is looking back. “Remember,” I say to him, “you don’t need it.”
If we focus too much on imperfections, it distracts from what we can accomplish. Bob Dylan is a good example. My guess is that no one predicted a guy with such a lackluster voice and peculiar demeanor would become a major influence in the music industry.
His guidance counselor probably tried to steer Bob away from what surely would have seemed a disastrous career path. Yet he’s written songs that are known around the world, sold millions of records, and doubtlessly inspired others who don’t fit the traditional mold of entertainers.
Willie Nelson has to be mentioned in the annals of unlikely successes. The first time I came to really appreciate Willie was when I heard, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Until then his nasal tone had struck me as too much even for a country singer. And he didn’t have the movie star looks of an Elvis or the commanding presence of a Johnny Cash.
But when I heard Willie singing that tender song, which he also wrote, I instantly became a fan. “When someday we meet up yonder, we’ll stroll hand in hand again, in a land that knows no parting, blue eyes crying in the rain.”
How he packed such a moving story into so few lines I don’t understand, but every time I hear that soulful tune I’m amazed. And sometimes I think back to his early struggles, a slow road to success because his voice wasn’t smooth as silk and his looks were less than spectacular. Yet somehow, Willie became sort of a national treasure.
It shouldn’t be surprising there are advantages of imperfection. The Apostle Paul addressed that topic from a very personal standpoint. We can only speculate as to what the thorn in his flesh was. (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10) Perhaps it’s left to our imaginations so that we won’t embrace too narrow of an interpretation.
Paul asked God three times to take the thorn away, but God didn’t oblige. He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul not only accepted God’s decision but came to heartily embrace it. “For when I am weak,” he said, “then I am strong.”
I don’t know what thorns my readers may be dealing with nor how serious they may be. But I know that despite our imperfections, and sometimes because of them, God can use us in His kingdom’s work. As this new year begins, it’s a good time to search for the advantages of imperfection.
And if you feel the urge, you might want to look in the mirror and tell the one who is looking back, “You don’t need it.”