God willing, this month I will mark another year of continuous sobriety from alcohol and drugs.
Such a time as the period before and after a sobriety anniversary welcomes a great deal of introspection, hope and fear.
It is good to celebrate such milestones. Not so much to pat oneself on the back, but to show others on a similar path that long-term sobriety is indeed possible. And, in my case, there is no doubt that I can say without hesitation, if I can do it, anyone can.
But the reality is that I am sober today, not so much because of what I did, but because of what I stopped doing.
Certainly not picking up a drink of whiskey or a hit of crystal methamphetamine—my drugs of choice—has been a helpful daily decision.
However, even more critical has been my decision to stop trying to be perfect. In the end, such a goal, the goal of perfection, is about as achievable for me as running a double marathon on a hot August day.
It’s just not going to happen.
I drank and used drugs because I was led to believe that in order to be successful, in order to fully participate in the life of this world, I needed to be perfect. And every day, when I fell short, I drank and used to console the disappointed and devastated ego within.
Even more difficult for me to endure was the fact that people around me were never going to be perfect either, no matter how much I wanted them to be. My expectations of those people in my life always led to bitter disappointment and pointed to my own failures and imperfections.
So, in isolation, away from all of the imperfection that surrounded me and found within me, I sought a way out. And in the end I was nearly successful.
I made the decision to go to treatment and seek help.
But today, as I look back, I believe it wasn’t a decision I made on my own. It was made as the result of a nudge from God and the Holy Spirit at work in my darkest days. God was at work, in spite of the fact that I was so bitter and angry and alone. God was at work even when I wanted to have nothing to do with anything spiritual or even helpful.
There is a great disconnect in the way we as the church view perfection and the way God does.
Somehow, Christianity has become the ultimate training ground for those who seek to become as perfect as possible. We have been led to believe, and many of us have taught for too long, that imperfection is not a Christian virtue. We’ve been taught the only way to live an authentic Christian life is to pick up the pieces—day after day—and try to get perfect tomorrow.
Such an obsession with perfection has made all of us sick, and it is time for us to come clean.
Throughout Scripture, we read stories of imperfect people being chosen by God. Sometimes those men and women do extraordinary things as a result of that call; sometimes they simply continue to live authentically imperfect lives, affirmed by the knowledge that God was on their side.
Indeed, Jesus had little interest and gave little time to those who viewed perfection as their goal in the life.
His view of religious and societal expectations should give us pause in an ecclesial environment so focused on doing things right all the time.
Through the years, headlines have been full of Christians who have fallen into scandal as a result of falling off the pedestal of perfection.
Each time it happens—from righteous televangelists to upright members of Congress—we are surprised and feign outrage. Yet, deep down we know we are just as imperfect and are ashamed to admit that their failures are just like our own.
Many Christians find it difficult to hear stories of the darkness of addiction like the life I experienced for many years. It is human nature to judge, and judgmentalism is often an unfortunate characteristic of the Christian life.
But in the end, I believe that it is difficult to hearabout the poor choices and failures of others because it points to the darkness in each of us, no matter how that darkness is revealed.
I’m grateful to have a different perspective about perfection today.
I find comfort in the grace I receive from sharing my story about trying to live authentically.
I’ve learned how to find the perfection in my imperfection, and I pray all Christians might find a path to embracing themselves as they do the same.
Eric S. Fought is an activist, writer and commentator on issues related to the convergence of politics and faith in American culture. He is a Master of Divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota and a lay pastoral leader in the Roman Catholic tradition.