The “Romero Prayer”, university academics, and perfectionism

Probably around this time last year, Megan shared with us the Romero Prayer, part of a homily written by Catholic Bishop Ken Untener but often misattributed to Bishop Oscar Romero. It’s a profoundly encouraging and reassuring piece of writing, and I keep a copy of it posted on my wall. There are a couple parts that often jump out at me:

Nothing we do is complete,
Which is a way of saying
That the Kingdom always lies beyond us. […]

We cannot do everything,
And there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
And to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
An opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
But that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

Bishop Untener’s homily was originally written “for a celebration of departed priests” (see link above), so it might seem to be oriented more towards an audience of ministers to encourage them in the work they do. But it occurred to me recently that it could have applications in my life as a student, as well.

I’m a notorious perfectionist, and I always want to do a thorough job on the assignments I’m given. But as I progress in my degree – and over the last couple terms especially – the workload has increased, and some of the work has become more intimidating. For example, if I’m planning original research, I can get overwhelmed when reviewing all the literature for a particular topic, and when coming up with a research plan that will hopefully answer my research question and prove my hypothesis. But the Romero Prayer’s reminders – that “we cannot do everything”, and that “we may never see the end results” – are indeed liberating, even in this area of life. Even if I know that one of my assignments isn’t going to be completed as thoroughly or as thoughtfully as I’d like it to, I can usually trust that I’m learning skills from it that will be useful later on. And even if I don’t cover everything in my literature review or come up with something earth-shattering in the research process, it can still provide greater evidence in a certain direction, and allow others to build from it.

This is one area where I’ve found the Romero Prayer applicable to my life, but I think the principle applies for any part of our lives where we’ve decided to serve God. It could be through our work, through our volunteering, through our friendships, or maybe even through our studies.

Some of the work will be frustrating. Some of it definitely won’t feel like worship. And some of it will be incomplete. But it can still be a beginning, a step along the way, and even if we don’t accomplish everything we set out to do, God’s grace can enter and do the rest.

Jonathan

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