I’m a little nervous as I sit down to write this blog today. I’m nervous because although these thoughts have been rattling around in my brain for a few days now, I’m fully aware of the implications of embracing them. Putting them in writing makes them real and makes me accountable to them.
I am a wife and mother with 3 kids, a side scrapbooking business, a blog, volunteer work, and a full time job in ministry who just finished a Master’s degree. I keep myself pretty busy, and I enjoy each and every part of my life (except laundry). One of the downsides of having so many things going on is that I drop the ball – a lot. I frequently feel like I don’t spend enough time with my husband and that I need to be more attentive to my children when I am home with them. I often feel guilty that I don’t make at least one Holy Hour each week in our city-wide perpetual adoration chapel and that I don’t get to daily Mass more often. I wish I could polish our youth ministry nights a little more and that I could make the time to get to more of the teens’ sporting events.
Now, let’s be clear about something. I am not a perfectionist (just ask my husband). My Dad taught me a motto a long time ago that I have been very comfortable with for most of my life: Perfect is the enemy of good enough. At the time he was talking about business plans and project meetings, not motherhood and ministry, but I’ve adapted it to fit a lot of different areas of my life. I’m a good enough mom. I’m a good enough wife. I’m a good enough youth minister. I’m a good enough housekeeper, and I’m a good enough Catholic.
I’m not the only one who subscribes to this philosophy. Any time I fall or feel like I’m not living up to the expectations I should I have, I have plenty of people in my life who tell me that I should “take it a little easier” and “not be so hard on myself.” After all, I’m very busy – look at everything I’ve been called to – at everything I am doing. Weak moments and failures now and then are to be expected given the pace of my life. After all, nobody’s perfect.
Then, the other day, I read this (emphasis mine):
Look upon the lively examples of the holy Fathers in whom shone real perfection and the religious life, and you will see how little it is, and almost nothing that we do. Alas, what is our life when we compare it with theirs?…Oh! how great was the fervor of all religious in the beginning of their holy institute! Oh, how great was their devotion in prayer, how great was their zeal for virtue! How vigorous the discipline that was kept up, what reverence and obedience, under the rule of the superior, flourished in all! Their traces that remain still bear witness, that they were truly holy and perfect men who did battle so stoutly, and trampled the world under their feet. Now, he is thought great who is not a transgressor; and who can, with patience, endure what he has undertaken. Ah, the lukewarmness and negligence of our state! that we soon fall away from our first fervor, and are even now tired with life, from slothfulness and tepidity.
These words from Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ called BS on all of my excuses, all of my laziness, all of my life.
I’m a good person. I don’t do anything really wrong. I take care of my family. I am a good mom and a good wife. I love my kids and I love my husband. I try really hard to always make them a priority. I go to Mass on Sunday…twice on most Sundays. I pray everyday. I am teaching my kids to pray. I believe in God, I love Jesus and the Church. I agree with the Church’s teachings and try my best to follow them.
I imagine arriving at the heavenly gates and St. Peter looking at that list and saying, “Well, let’s give you a medal then, shall we?” (I’m not sure why, but my imaginary St. Peter is incredibly sarcastic…probably because it’s a language he knows I would speak.)
The saints did not make it to sainthood by just following the rules and “being good people.” They went above and beyond in their prayer, their fasting, their scripture reading. They so disciplined themselves that failure was never acceptable. They sought confession and worked – hard – to atone for their sins and their lapses.
I thought I was a good enough Christian who needed to make sure I wasn’t being too hard on myself. I’ve discovered though, that really, I’m a lazy Christian who needs to work constantly at battling a tepid faith. I need to be hard on myself – harder than anyone else is, in fact, because there is no such thing as standing still on this journey toward Christ. I’m either moving closer or I’m getting farther away, and the moment I start believing that I’m “good enough”, that’s the moment I start slipping backward.
What I’ve discovered about “Don’t be so hard on yourself” is that I’m pretty sure it’s a lie twisted out from the Devil out to tempt me in to complacency.
For, while a man takes complacency in himself, he displeases Thee; while he wants for human applause, he is deprived of true virtues. But true, glory and holy exultation is to glory in Thee, and not in one’s self; to rejoice in Thy Name, but not in one’s own strength. To find pleasure in no creature, save only for Thy sake. Let Thy Name be praised, not mine; let Thy work be magnified, not mine; let Thy Holy Name be blessed, but let nothing be attributed to me of the praise of men.
Well, there it is – now I’ve said it. I feel incredibly convicted in the words of Thomas a Kempis and challenged to change my attitude toward my discipline of faith. Please, won’t you pray for me as well?