A friend and I once had a conversation about “structures for failure.” Sometimes, he said, if you’ve been a “good girl” (or boy): successful in school, gifted with good friends, never at odds with parents or other authority figures, etc., it’s difficult as an adult to accept imperfection in yourself. When you make a mistake or fail at something, it feels like the whole world is crashing rather than as if you had just hit “a bump in the road.” Sometimes early “bumps” make us stronger people in the long run.
That point is, I think, the one St. Paul is making when he talks this morning about his “thorn in the flesh” in his letter to the Corinthians (2 COR 12:7-10). When he asked God repeatedly to take whatever it was away from him he finally heard God say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” That helped him to understand imperfection as a reality check for humility, i.e. knowing and acknowledging the truth of himself. It gave Paul a willingness to rely on other people sometimes and on God always. He says, “I will gladly boast of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
We don’t need to long for weakness but rather to accept our foibles as part of our growth and in solidarity with others who are also dealing with imperfection. If recognition of this element of the “human condition” makes us rely more on God than on ourselves while not abdicating our responsibility for our actions, it seems that the purpose has been served and we will know ourselves more deeply as God’s beloved.