Don’t Stifle the Good

Right now I’m going through a phase that involves making some changes and finding new rhythms…spiritually and otherwise. (Hmmm…funny that it happens to be the middle of Lent.) Changes can be hard for those of us who struggle with perfectionism or are naturally high-achievers (Ahem…). It’s hard, not because we don’t welcome the change and betterment, but because we don’t tend toward moderation. For some strange reason we tend to only think of improvement on a large scale, missing the opportunity to make a one small and gradual change at a time. We like hitting the metaphorical “overhaul” button.

It’s probably an issue of pride. I’m finding that just about every fault seems to be rooted in pride. Perhaps we are actually lacking in the virtues of patience or temperance too; I’m not exactly sure. But what we are effectively doing is setting ourselves up for failure. We are stifling the good that could begin to take root with the passionate desire for complete transformation. I’m reminded of Voltaire’s aphorism:

“The better is the enemy of the good.”

One interpretation of his meaning is that when our mindset is “perfection or bust” we bust; and we miss the chance to accomplish a more moderate good. In trying for unrealistic goals, we often never get going or don’t make it very far. Had we tried instead for a more attainable end, we would have been successful in cultivating a lasting good, which we could then build upon later. 

I think that we need to embody G. K. Chesterton’s famous phrase: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” The thing of it is that we actually become the people that we want to be by practicing who we want to be. That means that we are going to start off doing a poor job of things and learn, by doing, how to make things better. Remember, practice makes perfect; we don’t get to perfection without a lot of practice.

This goes for both the secular and the sacred. We don’t decide to become healthy and instantly have no cravings for sugar and lots and lots of bread. We don’t decide to start practicing mental prayer and immediately (or ever) become St. Catherine of Siena, experiencing ecstatic visions with Christ. Change takes time, and the joy of important changes is only experienced over time. I’m learning this (slowly), and I’m trying to embrace the pace of implementing grace-filled incremental changes so that I don’t stifle the good that God wants to cultivate in my life.

The Circle of Christian Life

Our 7-week-old Stella Maris was baptized on Saturday. It was so beautiful. It was a small gathering of our family and Stella’s godparents in our church’s chapel on the hill that was built in the 1700s.

Attending a baptism is always a powerful and moving thing. There is no question that something “other-worldly” is happening as the stain of original sin is removed from this little soul and she enters into the eternal life of the church. This realization is certainly intensified when the child is your own, when you are personally responsible for guiding her journey here on earth.

I tried to take it all in with fresh eyes, as her forehead was marked with the sign of the cross, her chest and head anointed, and the cleansing waters blessed and poured over her. Finally, her baptismal candle was lit from the Easter candle, signifying the transfer of the light of Christ that has now come into her life and given it new birth. She now carries that light with her on her journey — however long that journey may be.

We had to exit the chapel fairly quickly, because a funeral was taking place right after. As I took Stella’s gown off and packed her up in her car seat, people began filing in and the Easter candle was moved in front of the altar in preparation for the Mass. I was suddenly struck by the circle of the Christian life that was playing out before my eyes with these sacred and sacramental events in close succession. Continue reading “The Circle of Christian Life”

Guest Post: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life

I’m excited to welcome a guest post on the blog today from author Mary Elizabeth Sperry. Mary has worked for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops since 1994, and is the author of five books. Mary’s brand new book, Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life, was just released two weeks ago. Anyone who knows me knows that I can get quite excited about *decluttering*. 🙂 I appreciate Mary’s perspective on the topic, and I’m happy to have her on the blog talking about decluttering in our spiritual lives. Enjoy!


There’s no question that clutter is a real problem for a significant number of Americans – whether they need to rent a storage space, pay late fees on the bill, lost in the pile of unopened mail, or leave the car out in the weather because there’s no room in the garage. Decluttering has become a social trend. (For once in my life I’m part of a trend! Who knew?) Books about tidying up and Swedish death cleaning (!) sit on the best-sellers chart. With the beginning of Lent, my newsfeed is full of people taking the challenge to give away forty things in forty days. Some go even further – seeking to remove forty bags of possession from their homes during the Lenten season.

But using Lent as a reason to declutter doesn’t make decluttering a spiritual practice. People of any faith – or no faith at all – can decide to deal with the stuff that they trip over every time they need to do laundry. Does decluttering have a spiritual side? Does the state of our closets have anything to say about the state of our souls? Does God really care that we’re storing half-finished craft projects in the dining room?

Of course, he does! The God who has counted every hair on our heads and who knows when a sparrow falls cares deeply about the things that matter to us and that shape our daily lives. The most fundamental claim of Christianity is the Incarnation, that in Jesus, the all-powerful God who is the source of all beauty and goodness became a human being – just like us, except for sin. Jesus entered into the messiness of everyday life, preparing and eating food, learning a trade, and doing the chores necessary to keep a house running. Because of that, even the humblest task has meaning in the eyes of God.

Being a person of faith isn’t something you can keep in a box, taking it out for an hour or so on Sunday mornings, when it’s time to say grace before meals, and on the occasional holiday. The relationship with God that is at the heart of the Christian faith has to expand so that it reaches every aspect of our lives, even what we keep in our closets and what we give away. It’s more than saying a quick prayer before we begin decluttering or praying for the strength to finish (and to get the box of unused toys out of the house before the kids decide they are favorites – despite the fact that they haven’t been outside the toybox in eight months).

Decluttering as a person of faith means setting the reset button on our relationship with our possessions. We have to look honestly at what we’ve accumulated and humbly recognize the sinful tendencies (envy, greed, etc.) that lead us to acquire more than we need. We need to nurture gratitude for the things we have, regarding them as a gift of God that we can share generously with those in need.

Changing our relationship with our possessions will change the way we interact with other people as well. When we break the pattern of acquiring more than we need and tossing things away when they are no longer useful, how much easier will it be to recognize that people aren’t disposable and that they always take precedence over things? Freed from the race to acquire more and to protect what we have, we can take more time to be with others, to listen, and even to be silent. And as we learn to be more generous with what we have been given, we learn to trust that God will provide for all our needs.


 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey