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 Enemy of the Good

fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
We just started homeschooling this year, as our oldest has started Kindergarten. So I have spent the summer reading various books on education philosophies. A great book that I just finished reading is Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake, which is basically a summary and modern-day application of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education and teaching principles. Mason believed that a child’s mind should be respected and filled with only the best source material; and she advocated, among other things, reading aloud “living books” filled with “story” and letting children discover and connect first-hand with nature. Macaulay makes a most compelling case for Mason’s ideals in education — at home or in a school. But at various points, Macaulay notes the skeptic’s response, and that some may find such an approach to education too idealistic or impractical in our current society. She doesn’t think it is unattainable for the average person to give children this kind of education, but she concedes that we are imperfect people in imperfect circumstances. Toward the end of the book, she gives beautifully true advice: “If you can’t give them everything, give them something.” Continue reading “The Enemy of the Good”