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Disney’s Encanto and the Celebration of Imperfection

Encanto is Disney’s latest animated film. It’s a vibrant musical that celebrates family, gifts, serving the community, and diversity. But more than that, the ‘moral’ of the film focuses on the joy in not being perfect. I wonder if there’s something in this that the culture around us has grasped, but that seems to elude those of us in the church? 

If you’ve not seen the film, it’s set in Columbia and centres around the Madrigal family who live in an enchanted house and each have a magical gift… except for Mirabel. When things start to unravel, it’s up to Mirabel to mend fractured relationships and restore the dwindling magic. Mirabel feels the challenge of being the only one in a large family without anything special to offer, but as the film progresses she discovers that even those with supernatural gifts feel a huge pressure to be perfect. Things only begin to heal once the cast learn to embrace their imperfections, and each other, recognising that no single person is strong enough to bear burdens all alone. 

This is a message we are well familiar with in the church. Paul talks in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 about the church being one body with many parts, each with a different part to play. We know that to be a Christian is to love and serve one another. We believe that the church needs all the different gifts, not just a certain type of gift. 

But, how often do believers deep down feel like Mirabel’s sister Luisa, who sings, “Under the surface I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service!” and “Who am I if I can’t carry it all?” 

Or like the other sister Isabella who sings, “I make perfect, practised poses / so much hides behind my smile,” lamenting the unhappiness that stems from holding up the facade of being perfect all the time? 

In the end, these sisters, and the rest of the cast, find joy in embracing their imperfections. Isabella takes delight in realising she can achieve so much more if she doesn’t concentrate on perfection. Luisa is happier for realising it’s OK to admit her weaknesses and reach out for help. The family learns they no longer have to hide their faults. 

Now, as Christians, we cite verses like 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” but do we actually believe it? Or are we too focused on ourselves, in rooting out the causes of our sin, on working hard to achieve our goals, of reaching some form of ideal, so that we lose sight of God’s grace to us? Do we forget that, like treasure in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7), the goodness of God in our lives is most visible when we are not perfect? 

Do we forget that the story of the Bible is of God meeting his imperfect people where they are and graciously covering their imperfections with his own perfection? Do we get so caught up in trying to live the ‘perfect Christian life’ that we forget that the only one who can achieve perfection is Jesus… and miss out on the joy that comes from continually remembering that our identity is in him? 

How often do we put the cart before the horse in terms of our justification and sanctification? We know that we were saved by grace alone, but then after we are saved it is so easy for us to slip into thinking that we then need to justify our own salvation by sanctifying ourselves. We want to feel useful to God. But we need to remind ourselves, again and again, that God doesn’t need us. He graciously works in and through us so that we can see more of what he is like, and so that we can know the joy of joining in with his work and working alongside other believers. That is why we serve. Not because it earns us anything. Not because we owe it to God, or to other believers. 

If we stop focusing on trying to achieve perfection, in taking on more and more responsibilities, I wonder if we would have more freedom to enjoy walking with God, leaning on him and rejoicing in his grace to us? If we put less pressure on ourselves to act a certain way or to serve with certain types of gifts, this might free us up to walk in simple obedience, through our flaws, in each moment. 

Of course, we don’t want to sin. We never condone sin. But often this issue is not even to do with sin, but more a sort of competency or lifestyle ideal. Do we hold ourselves and others to a certain standard to do with organisation, diet, family life, busy-ness, or other rules that the Bible doesn’t set out for us? We also need to remember that an entirely sinless life, let alone one that meets some ‘ideal’ standard, is not achievable on this side of heaven – nor is it required of us. Instead, we are told to lean on Christ’s perfection, rejoicing that we are united with him, and keep turning to God in repentance.  

That said, as we go on in the Christian walk, God’s sanctifying work in us will mean that we are transformed into Christ’s likeness more and more. This will happen as we spend time walking with God. It happens through each small act of obedience to him, and through the joy of repentance. It doesn’t come about through beating ourselves up every time we fall short, whether in sin or in our abilities. Note, too, that this sanctification rarely shows itself in additional competency at life, but a greater love for God and for others. 

As we shake off self-imposed (or even church-culture-imposed) standards, particularly over things that are not sin issues, how might that free us to be ourselves, to enjoy the walk with God that is unique to each of us, and to serve the church in the way that only we, individually, can? How might we be able to love our church families better, and let them serve us better, too, if we stop striving for perfection? 

One Comment

  1. Stephen Nichools | 31 Jan, 2022

    Really thought provoking and helpful article. Thanks Katie.

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