perfection and wholeheartedness.

23 Apr

Perfect is the Enemy of Good Enough

A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley, ddelivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on April 15, 2012

Listen to “The Leaky Pot” story.

Listen to the sermon.

Moment for All Ages: The Leaky Pot
There is a story about a water-bearer in India that had two large pots, each hung on the end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect.  The perfect pot always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, whereas the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the water-bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water on each trip. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”

“For these past two years, I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer’s heart went out to the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt sad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the water-bearer for its failure.

The water-bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. Without you being just the way you are, this beauty would not exist.”

Sometimes, the characteristics about ourselves we feel we are broken are some of our greatest gifts.  I used to think there was something wrong with me because when I talk about something that is dear to my heart, I cry.  I thought I had to be strong and not cry. But I have learned that when I cry at church, it allows other people to feel emotions that they have bundled up inside, and it sometimes lets them cry tears that really need to be cried.  And so now I see my crying like the cracked pot – it lets beautiful things grow.

Maybe for you it is that you get really excited, or laugh too loud, or cry like I do when you are happy, sad, and anything in between.  Some of the things you might be most embarrassed about now may turn out to be your most wonderful and amazing gifts as human beings.


Story from friend to therapist: I’m not good enough to be a perfectionist


  • Title of sermon derived from Voltaire quote
    • 80/20, Pareto principle
  • normal perfectionism: deriving a real sense of pleasure from the labor of painstaking effort
  • neurotic (unhealthy) perfectionism: unable to feel satisfaction because in our own way we never do things well enough to feel that sense of satisfaction.
    • Belief that being perfect is the only way to be accepted by others, therefore a deep sense of shame at our imperfections.
  • Ask people:
    • How many of you consider yourself perfectionists (possibly neurotic)?
    • How many of you have felt: If you want something right, do it yourself!
    • How many of you have been told by others that you are a perfectionist?
  • Our congregations are full of perfectionists – normal, to varying degrees of neurosis
    • come out’ers came from faith traditions where we could not reconcile our own beliefs with what we were supposed to believe. We could not live with the hypocrisy
    • come inners (unchurched) come seeking connection
      • loneliness is on the rise, 20% are lonely to the point of unhappiness
    • All of us seeking deep, real, authentic, meaningful community
  • most socially isolated people in history
    • Duke Study
    • 1985: 10% of Americans had no one to talk to and 15% had only 1 good friend
    • 2004: 25% of Americans had no one to talk to and only 20% had one good friend
  • Not really surprising since we are in a society that constantly tells us that we are not good enough.pretty enough, smart enough, WE ARE NOT ENOUGH


  • We are neurobiology wired to connect and form relationships with others.
  • Shame is the feeling that we are not good enough, that there is something inherently wrong with us, and that this will cause us to be unable to make these important connections
  • Shame keeps us from connecting with others, causes us to hide ourselves.
  • Judeo-Christian story, Adam and Eve were naked in the garden of Eden, but they didn’t know or care about it, until they ate from the Tree of Knowledge.
    • Then, it says, they were ashamed of their nakedness and were cast out of Eden.
    • They were naked.
    • They were vulnerable.
    • But that is also when they had children, grew their family
  • Might argue that vulnerability was truly when they became human, this is when human history begins


  • Emotional vulnerability – allows us to connect with others, accepting help, giving up the need to be perfect
  • How many of you struggle to be vulnerable because you think of vulnerability as weakness?
  • When you watch people being vulnerable [like when I told the story to the kids], how many of you thought it was courageous?
  • Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.
  • Brene Brown says:
    1. We want to experience emotional vulnerability from others but we don’t want to be vulnerable.
    2. Vulnerability is courage in others and inadequacy in us.
    3. We’re drawn to the vulnerability of others but repelled by our own.
  • vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and struggle for worthiness,
  • but it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love.
  • Birthplace of what Brown calls “Wholeheartedness”


  • only one variable that separates the people who have a strong sense of connection and loving and those who don’t feel this connection:
    • the people who have the feeling of love and belonging BELIEVE that they are worthy of love and belonging
  • wholehearted people who live with a sense of worthiness
    • courage to be imperfect
    • compassion to be kind to themselves and others
    • authentic – let go of who they thought they SHOULD be in order to be who they were
    • they fully embrace vulnerability – they believe that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful
      • Not that it is comfortable, but also not as it being excruciating,
      • Necessary.


  • Who are we called to be?
    • Perfect? Invulnerable? Inhuman?
  • No. We are called to be ourselves, human, unique, flawed, wonderful, vulnerable, wholehearted.

Sermon ends in A Litany of Wholeheartedness.

Watch Brené Brown’s TED Talk:

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