Sign Up for People, Not Problems or Perfection: An Anniversary Reflection for Life

Sign Up for People, Not Problems or Perfection: An Anniversary Reflection for Life August 11, 2022

Repair work (right) on Mishima ware hakeme-type tea bowl with kintsugi gold lacquer, 16th century; 11 November 2014, Daderot; Creative Commons

I told a friend yesterday that Mariko and I celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary today. We’re somewhere between silver and golden celebrations with flecks of gray to prove it. I looked back last year to see what I wrote about our journey with our son Christopher and his TBI on our anniversary. To my surprise, I mentioned that I was sick in bed due to exhaustion from tending to Christopher daily since his life-altering injury in January 2021. This year, my wife is under the weather, so we will have to delay our anniversary celebration once again. So much for perfect anniversaries! It’s a good thing our marriage does not depend on perfection.

I shared with my friend that Mariko and I did not sign up for Christopher’s TBI thirty-two years ago, but we did sign up for him no matter where his life might take us. Similarly, we signed up for one another no matter how perfect we are or look over the years.

It would be life-taking and morbid to relish and fixate on problems with people, including TBI. In contrast, it is life-giving to sign up for people no matter the problems one endures. Christopher’s person and our love for him keeps us moving forward with his care, as does our love for one another.

Of course, one must address problems in one’s marriage, or in accounting for a child’s critical care situation. One cannot ignore problems. Otherwise, the relationship or person will decline. That said, cultivating connections amid crises is most important, or the relationship and care giver can burn out. With everything going on, my wife and I need to make sure we are on the same page, have good communication strategies in place, and guard against taking out our frustrations on one another.

We’re by no means perfect, as anyone who knows us can testify. We are imperfect people with an imperfect marriage and imperfect children. It’s not that we lack aspirations for growth and development. Indeed, we do pursue maturation. I find a parallel in the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery known as “kintsugi.” The picture shown with this post illustrates that this form of restoration does not hide brokenness and repair, but sees them as part of an object’s history and identity. So it is with how I wish to view life.

It is important that all of us guard against the trap to which we can easily fall prey: those who pursue lives and relationships free of problems are bound to be greatly disappointed. It can lead to depression and despair, including the destruction of who or what we hold dear. In contrast, it is best to pursue perfect imperfection.

Here I call to mind the Japanese philosophy known as “wabi-sabi.” It manifests itself in various contexts, including the centuries-old Japanese tea ceremony known as “wabi-cha,” where an emphasis on natural, old-fashioned, and ordinary objects and utensils replaced expensive, exquisite, and showy tastes. There is far more that could be said about this philosophy of life and its impact on the tea ceremony through the centuries. I am only scratching the surface in this imperfect post. You can find out more about this philosophy here. You can also find out more about “wabi-cha” at this site and the article titled “tea ceremony.” Here it is worth noting that the tea master Sen no Rikyū countered the military ruler Hideyoshi’s preference for golden gaudiness and luxuriousness with unrefined simplicity. The style of wabi-cha conveys elements of “simplicity,” “quietude,” and “absence of ornament.”

I often thank God for my wife, though not nearly enough! She’s so strong, peaceable, or quiet of spirit, and wise. She enjoys studying Sen no Rikyū and admires his approach to life. I could not make it through Christopher’s ordeal without her and this perspective. A house or marriage divided against itself will not stand. Nor will those who cannot tolerate imperfection in others and life itself. But marital love that does not grow old, that involves respect and appreciation, and a desire to grow together through imperfection and tragedy rather than pull apart provides a new lease on life every anniversary.

It is vital that in all our relationships, we put the focus on cherishing people rather than fixate on problems and perfection. That way, those flecks of gray that grow in number will be symbolic of those naturally golden, not gaudy, years to come.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including Evangelical Zen: A Christian's Spiritual Travels with a Buddhist Friend and Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse. You can read more about the author here.

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