The Enemy of the Good

fir0002 | [GFDL 1.2 (], via Wikimedia Commons

fir0002 | [GFDL 1.2 (], 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.”

Ah, yes. How many times do we settle for nothing, rather than anything less than our ideal. We do this with everything, our spiritual lives not withstanding. Some of us struggle with this more than others. I (a compulsive box-checker) usually have a clear idea of what I want to achieve and how I want to achieve it. But when I fall short of perfection, I sometimes fail to reach for the good that I want in any measure whatsoever. As Voltaire said, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.” We are imperfect people, and there will be many days where we are striving for the good, but definitely missing the mark of perfection. However, the effort is more important than we realize, and that realistic amount of good is much more formational than the picture of perfection we have created in our ideals. In fact, we are often missing out on lots of good in our spiritual and family lives because we are weighed down by our missed marks of perfection.

What ideals are weighing us down? What good are we missing? I can think of a few examples that often hit close to home for me:

  • “I can’t take all my kids to daily mass every day. I just won’t be able to go to daily mass for the next few years.” ~ Why don’t I try once a week or once every couple of weeks? Why don’t I try taking only the older kids once a week when someone else can stay with the baby?
  • “I want the kids to get familiar with morning prayer and the Liturgy of the Hours, but they won’t sit still that long.”  ~ Why don’t I start by just reading a short Psalm with them each morning?
  • “I know people who easily read three books a month. I want to read more, but I don’t know when I would have time.”  ~ Why don’t I start reading for 10 minutes a day?
  • “I want to celebrate the liturgical calendar and feast days in my home, but it is overwhelming to scan all of these Catholic sites with crafty ideas!”  ~ Why let it be overwhelming? Why don’t I pick one feast day a month that is special to me and my family and celebrate it authentically in whatever way feels natural and life-giving?
  • “I need to exercise, but I rarely find the time before the end of the day when I am exhausted.” Why don’t I take all the kids out to the yard and play freeze-tag or kick the soccer ball in the afternoon?

When I write out a list like this, the solution seems so clear and the way forward much more joyful. When we start seeing opportunities for the good and not for the perfect, I am convinced we will experience peace and fulfillment in our souls and the life of our families. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world; we cannot give our families and ourselves everything that we want to at all times, but let’s give something — something good.