“The only way to become whole is to put our arms lovingly around everything we know ourselves to be: self-serving and generous, spiteful and compassionate, cowardly and courageous, treacherous and trustworthy. We must be able to say to ourselves and to the world at large, “I am all of the above.” If we can’t embrace the whole of who we are…we’ll imprison the creative energies hidden in our own shadows…”
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us can admit to being a mixed bag of darkness and light, virtue and vice. There are aspects of our personality about which we are pleased and others that are a source of embarrassment. It is second nature to hide from others what we are ashamed of, and to attempt to rid ourselves of what feels unacceptable, but if we value wholeness as does author Parker Palmer, we may want to give that impulse a second thought.
It is easy enough to claim what we feel are our strengths, but if we cannot embrace our character flaws, we end up expending our “creative energies” denying or resisting what we deem improper. Anyone who has worked at overcoming their faults knows it is usually a losing battle, for what we deny or resist often begins to loom larger. But what is paradoxically true in the spiritual life is that losing can be the necessary prelude to winning. It is when we fail in our efforts to perfect ourselves that we may realize that perfection is not a matter of elimination but of integration, and that holiness is not the end product of a purifying process, but of “putting our arms lovingly around everything we know ourselves to be.”
The loving embrace of our flawed self does not preclude efforts toward self-improvement, but it does invite us to recognize that we are more, much more, than our faults and failings.