Good-Enough: A reflection on the millstone of aspirational perfection

Today I read a Facebook post where a woman was talking about having been a child in Bosnia, where from the age of 8 she missed four years of schooling during the war.

She left Bosnia for NZ (I think) at 13 with no English and little schooling. She now has a degree and is well established – those lost years had been made up. In the context she was encouraging parents who are worried about their children losing these months of schooling, and it said ‘chill’.

What we can do is what we can do. Stop fretting.

This put me in mind of Donald Winnicott who in the 1950’s spoke and wrote about good-enough parenting (or mothering it really was then). Generally the idea was to reassure mothers/ parents of the rightness of their basic caring instincts, and help them balance between meeting the needs of the child, and not meeting every need.

This helped the child learn the reality of a world which was never going to meet his/ her every need and so learning a measure of independence, and giving the mother or parent some independence.

Good-enough encompasses a level of failure, of failing to meet every need, and of coming to a kind of best fit between need and the ability to meet it. The concept of the ‘good-enough mother’ tended to liberate parents from the millstone of aspirational perfection.

Part of our concern is not that we do things because we are following Jesus but because we are listening to another drummer i.e. the drummer of self-esteem, of other’s expectations, of calls to do and to perform rather than the call of Jesus. (unknown).

It is this notion of the good-enough minister and ‘the millstone of aspirational perfection’ that we can also talk about when we think about self-care.

Maybe especially in Easter week, with all the associated worship services. Maybe especially in a time when the ways we have traditionally engaged in ministry have been turned upside down overnight and we are trying to reconfigure how to lead worship without a congregation, how to care pastorally when we can’t meet, how to engage our community when it is locked in its homes.

We are stressed and pushing ourselves to meet all of these new and changed criteria and modalities for ministry.

The millstone of aspirational perfection is what leads us as ministers to know there is always something more we can do: more research for a sermon, or better crafting of our language, or more images and video clips for the worship space; extra pastoral care visits, another trip to the hospital, a phone call, organising an elder to follow up with someone; and of course there are more programmes within the church and community, or contacting that community leader or attending this community function.

Then there are the meetings… You know what I mean.

There is always more we can do when we are in ministry. On top of all of that now we are also trying to become tech-savvy producers as well as pastors.

So what would the good-enough minister look like? The minister who did not drag around that millstone of aspirational perfection; that burden of not just meeting their own ideas of what they should do in my ministry, but also the congregation’s, and the community’s and of course the Presbytery’s idea of what they should be doing. Rather the good enough minister might be an artist in failure: not solving all things but managing our failure to solve the problems in our community.

The good-enough minister will acknowledge they are flawed, and not everything will turn out perfectly. The good-enough minister in these troubled times will still do what they can, but won’t let themselves be overly stressed by what they can’t do. What we can do is what we can do.

As you approach Easter, may you be a good-enough minister.

Rev Dr Christine Sorensen
Presbytery Minister (Formation and Discipleship)

Acknowledgement: Rev Dr Philip Culberston for shared teaching notes.
Quote from Ades, Robert. (Ed) The Collected Works of Donald Winnicott, 1960-62 https://www.oxfordclinicalpsych.com/page/winnicott-radio-bbc accessed 08/04/2020

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Search Articles

Browse Categories

Stay in the Loop

Share this Article

Share to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Share to LinkedIn
Share via Email
I'm looking for...