It is better to be whole than to be good.
This observation, from Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak, may surprise you. It certainly makes me reflect on what my life’s goal should be. I suspect many of us have lived our lives trying to be good—fitting our behavior into norms established by some external authority. We follow the law, the Ten Commandments, the expectations of family and friends, the church. Even our consciences are shaped by external influences.
We may can answer the question, “What is it that makes me good?” but can we answer as easily the question, “What is it that makes me whole?” Many people live their entire lives without considering what is needed for their wholeness. We may use addictions to fill the emptiness, and I’m not simply talking about addictions to substances like drugs or alcohol. We can be addicted to the need for approval from others, to material possessions, to status, to exercise, to busyness. Anything we use to try and fill the yearning inside us is subject to becoming an addiction.
Being good can keep us from being whole. Being good can keep us from being who God created us to be. When we are focused on being good, we respond from a place of fear and insecurity instead of from love and freedom. A focus on being good holds us captive, causes us to try to be in control of our image, and thus, to try to control those around us who may reflect on our image.
Wholeness and freedom are two sides of the same coin. We move toward wholeness when we look to Christ dwelling within us, when we begin to recognize that the things we label as “good” may actually be masks, false images that constrict us and, if we can be still and silent long enough to recognize it, are burdens we are not even asked to carry. I think Jesus had this in mind when he invited the weary and burdened to find rest in him.
Yoked to Christ, instead of to the expectations of goodness, we can learn who we really are. We can learn to listen to the Godseed planted within each one of us that yearns for light and freedom and grace and space to grow.
It is a journey that many of us never begin, or if we begin, it is only after recognizing the frustration and futility of being good. The great gift of seeking wholeness is that when we seek it for ourselves, we invite others to seek it also. We stop imposing our standards of goodness on others, and allow them to live in love and freedom. No is replaced with yes. Rules are replaced with grace. Judgment is replaced with love. It’s a much more refreshing way to live!