You Don’t Have to be Perfect to be Whole


Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.

~ Parker Palmer

What does it mean to be whole? How would you describe your current level of wholeness? If you don’t consider yourself whole—what is missing?

I’ve been pondering this idea of wholeness lately. If anyone asked me whether I consider myself to be whole, I’d likely respond with a no.

After all, I still haven’t quite figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I still experience sadness, anger, and fear—from both fresh griefs and past hurts I tried to bury deep. I have a lot of questions challenging what I thought I was sure I believed. There are plenty of days when I feel lonely. I still so often fall short of who I want to be.

Do all these uncertainties and unfinished parts mean I’m not whole? What does wholeness really mean and why does it feel so elusive to me?

When I think about wholeness, I picture someone who has it all together. I imagine a life where all the big questions are answered. A whole person would know exactly what she believes and have unwavering convictions about what is right or wrong. She would be successfully working in a career that felt satisfying and meaningful.

A whole person would have a large circle of fun, supportive friends. She would have no unhealed hurts, difficult relationships, or lingering fears. Wholeness looks like always knowing what to do and making correct, responsible, healthy choices in all areas of life.

Now that I put my image of wholeness into words, it looks an awful lot like perfection. No wonder it feels so out of reach.

Is wholeness really reserved for those whose lives are free from trouble or those who can quickly get over anything painful? Are those of us who don’t have everything figured out just yet excluded from being whole? What about those of us who make mistakes or have parts of ourselves we don’t like all that much? Is there room in wholeness for disappointment? For longing? For grief?

But what if wholeness is something else entirely? What if wholeness includes every part of our experience—the joyful, the painful, the still in progress?

When something devastating happens in our lives, we wonder how we’ll ever be whole again. There is an idea out there that being whole again means getting back to who we were before everything fell apart, but that particular version of wholeness is gone forever. More accurately, it is now only part of the even fuller wholeness we’re growing into.

No matter what it is we’ve lost or feared to lose—a loved one, a job, a home, a belief, a dream, a relationship, an identity—that experience takes us beyond the edges of ourselves. It doesn’t shrink our reality, it expands it.

We long to believe that being whole means we’ll be happy, safe, and comfortable. As much as we don’t want grief, fear, disappointment, or uncertainty to be included in our wholeness, once those things enter our world our wholeness must encompass them. Wholeness means including every single piece—even the ugly ones.

A life that acknowledges doubts and pain and flaws is still more whole than one that ties everything up in a tidy bow and pretends those things don’t exist.

Wholeness doesn’t require you to forget or get over it or pretend you’re fine.

Being whole isn’t the same as being finished. Wholeness isn’t a static destination we try to reach and maintain, but rather a willingness to continue expanding to include each new experience as part of who we are. Unlike perfection, wholeness is ever growing.

I certainly don’t have this all figured out, but it’s helping me right now to realize that I don’t have to have it totally together and have everything going my way in order to be a whole person. For a lot of my life I tried so hard to be perfect, now I’m realizing that what I really want is to be whole.

My current version of wholeness includes exciting things like getting to know my new neighborhood and getting to connect with you. It also includes wrestling with tough questions and making space for tears. Not all of these are fun, but I wouldn’t be fully who I am without them.

I’d love to know…how do you imagine wholeness? What feels like it’s keeping you from wholeness? How would it change things if you acknowledged those things as part of what being whole looks like for you right now?