The Most Important Word in the English Language

Richard Rohr says that we grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.  He also observes that people who consider themselves to be morally superior are often the last to learn this. The demand for the perfect is often the greatest enemy of the good.

Brennan Manning tells a wonderful story from India about a water bearer who had two large pots. Each pot hung on opposite ends of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it. So while one pot always delivered a full portion of water after the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishment, but the pot that was cracked was disappointed and ashamed. After two years of this the cracked pot said to the water bearer, “I am ashamed of myself and want to apologize for my failure.” The water bearer responded, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” 

When they arrived at the end of the trail, the water bearer said, “Did you notice that the wild flowers were only on your side of the path. That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the trail, so that every day, as we walked back from the stream, you have watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, we would not have had this beauty to grace the trail and flowers to grace the master’s house.”

We are all wounded, broken, and cracked. God dwells in and works through human imperfection and weakness. People who have spent their lives wearing disguises and protecting their egos fight this. They invest heavily to keep up appearances, so much so that they often end up believing their own lies. Have you noticed in the Gospels that Jesus’ harshest words are reserved for the self-righteous, those who are secure in and proud of their self-professed spiritual superiority?   

We grow spiritually by dealing with our imperfection and brokenness in healthy, redemptive ways. We all have our demons. The worst thing we can do is deny them because of some high and holy quest for perfection or out of a need to appear righteous or holy or superior.

In the film Silver Linings Playbook there is a scene where Pat faces his brother, who never came to visit him when he was in the hospital in Baltimore dealing with his bi-polar disorder. His brother apologizes for not coming; he tells Pat that those places “creep him out.” His excuse is that he has been busy helping his father with the restaurant and dealing with his own stuff. He tells Pat that he is going to make partner at his firm. He says, “I don’t know what to say to you anymore. You lost your wife; I am getting engaged. I want to be able to tell you about these kinds of things. You lost your house; I’m getting a new house. You lost your job; things are going great for me at the firm.” This guy is clueless.

At this point their father interrupts and says to Pat’s brother: “Stop talking about all the stuff that’s good for you and bad for him. Leave it alone.” His brother says, “I am just goin’ to stop talking; I’m just goin’ to shut my mouth.”

There’s a long pause as Pat stares at his brother. He has every right to be upset, but then he says: “As my friend Danny would say, ‘I’ve got nothing but love for you, brother.’” He hugs his brother and the conversation resumes.

A few sentences later Pat says, “People like Tiffany or Danny or me [These are people who have had to face the consequences of their addictions and problems; they have all been in some tough places]. Maybe we know something that you don’t. Maybe we understand something that you don’t.”

What they understand is that there is no real spiritual growth until we face our spiritual poverty and destitution. It is by doing it wrong that we learn to do it right. But there is a catch: We have to confront our demons. We have to acknowledge our addictions, our negative patterns, our faults. We have to be honest and truthful, and find the inner strength and courage to deal with our failures and admit we did it wrong.

The most important word in the English language is “Help.” It’s not easy to say. We have to swallow our pride and admit we need it. It opens a door to our heart and provides a way through all the defense mechanisms, illusions, deceptions, and appearances we have employed to hide our humanity. 


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