A letter arrived in the mail a few days ago. It was written by a friend of mine and he was responding to an earlier essay I had written about my shortcomings.
As I remember, I had written something to the effect that I did not feel that I had accomplished all that much in my life. He shared with me that he felt much the same way when he was in his 30s. He felt that his life was a failure, that all that he once thought in terms of accomplishments no longer mattered in terms of his own self-worth.
He drifted for a few years, coping as best he could with a depression that weighed him down. But he gradually came to realize that the only one who would ever accomplish anything of worth and goodness in his life was God.
That is when he realized that he had been struggling all along with the sin of pride. Pride, as I remember, is the root of all sin, which basically means “missing the mark.”
Once my friend accepted his limitations and moved on to rely on God, his life took a better and more manageable turn. He let go and allowed God to be God — the one who redeems us in our weakness.
Scripture offers many examples of human pride, specifically the drive within us to be like God. To find within us the power to save ourselves. There are the stories of Adam and Eve, the Tower of Babel, the many parables of Jesus that tell of the folly of relying on human means like wealth or possessions to secure one’s place on this life.
These stories drive home the basic truth that without God we lose our way in this life. We can shut Him out with all the walls we build around ourselves. But the walls don’t hold. Eventually they are breached by failure, sickness and death. We return to what we really are — utterly dependent on God for our lives.
Our culture loathes weakness. The media relentlessly erects monuments to the wealthy, the beautiful, the strong, the supposedly brilliant, the successful. Which leaves many of us in the dust.
Yet there are times we look at our screens and monitors and are drawn to long for a way of life that will never be ours. There are many passages in Scripture that remind us that there may be gold in the dust we find beneath our feet.
St. Paul delighted in the awareness that God lives within us. He therefore embraced whatever weakness he found within himself, knowing that the very life of Jesus is manifested in his own body.
It was a stunning reversal of the way we humans normally look at ourselves and plan our lives. We spend so much time and energy attempting to leave the warts and blemishes of our lives in the dust and move ahead to an illusory state of perfection.
Growth begins when we learn to accept the broken nature of the vessel that is human life, and allow God to enter through the cracks.
I am glad my friend wrote to me. His words brought home the need I have to loosen up a bit and ask God where to go, how to go, and if He will be with me along the way.
This life makes no sense if we think we are called to accomplish it all, manage it all. We are bound to fail. Which is why we all need God.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.