I’ve been pondering a quote about St. Thérèse of Lisieux from Ida Friederike Görres biography, The Hidden Face: “[S]he rejected all ascetic efforts which were directed not towards God but toward one’s own perfection.”
I, for one, have a way of trying to be perfectly accommodating, perfectly forgiving, perfectly available, perfectly responsive which is somehow not about the other person, but about me.
I’ve had a number of incidents lately where people have in one way or another approached me and after I’ve responded with as much grace, patience, compassion and generosity as I can muster, have proceeded to guilt-grip, nitpick, bully, and scapegoat. In the past I’ve tended in such situations to offer a long, heartfelt explanation of how they had misunderstood, and why I thought and felt as I did, thinking my job was to be friendly and open. Now I’m more likely to respond, “You may be right!”–or not respond at all–mentally wish the person well, and move on.
(Plus, you can always defriend him or her on Facebook).
No, but seriously, I’m deeply aware of the myriad ways I fall far, far short every day: of my selfishness, my jealousy, my petty spite, my obsessive-compulsive thought patterns.
But what Christ came to say, it seems to me more and more, was you are never going to get where you want to go by merely following the rules. The rules are important, but only to let you know whether or not you’re moving in the right direction. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” [Matthew 5:17]
Part of the fulfillment is that you get to take yourself into account. You don’t embark on some willy-nilly saying yes to everything even though you’re hungry, angry, lonely and tired; out of some misguided sense of martyrdom, which for me is often a thinly-veiled disguise for my fear that the other person won’t like me if I say no.
Maybe not everyone can relate, but as the oldest of six in a family affected by alcoholism, the delusion that if only I were good enough, accomplished enough, pretty enough, perfect enough I could save them (“them” being my family, the poor, the sick and suffering, the world) has been seemingly hard-wired into my psyche since practically my first sentient day.
Of course there’ll be many times when you “sacrifice.” Your friend calls you because her car broke down on the way to the airport: of course you “give up” your quiet evening of reading to go pick her up. But you’re not trying to get good spiritual marks. You’re not doing it to get straight A’s on some cosmic report card; you’re doing it because you’ve prayed long and hard enough, you’ve developed enough of a relationship with Christ, so that you can now actually feel and somewhat gauge the stirrings of your heart. You’re able to discern your motives. You say yes because you know you’re going to be able to reciprocally participate in the flow of give and take. You devote your energy to the people and things that nourish you instead of frittering it away trying to win useless arguments.
So quit explaining yourself. Give yourself permission to say no once in awhile. Leave the scapegoaters to their own sad and secret sorrows–and pray for them, for we are all scapegoaters in our way.
Listen to the birds.
Take a walk. …