On Giants' Shoulders

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sometimes Your Best Still Doesn't Get the Result You're Looking For

We have a mythology in this country that if you simply give it your best, try as hard as you can that you can achieve anything. We tend to think that those people who aren't succeeding aren't succeeding because they aren't trying hard enough. Yesterday I took a very hard exam which I've been studying for intensely for months. I came out with no idea in the world whether I had even passed it and it wasn't at all for lack of trying. A lot of the things I had learned over the course of months of study weren't even touched on in the exam and a number of things that were on the exam either were minor topics in some book that I never got to, or else they simply didn't appear in my study materials at all.

There are lots of things in life that are like that, parenting can be like that a lot of the time. The end result is not always due to the effort of the parents. We've all seen people whose parents broke all the rules of good parenting who at the end of the day are nice people, and we've also seen the people with parents who made efforts over and above what anyone would expect who've turned out to be not very nice people at all. Effort in doesn't always result in perfection out. I've even had it happen with recipes in the kitchen where it seems like the harder I try the bigger the mess I've made (I remember these homemade ravioli that were a prime example of that).

There are lots of times in my life that I've gotten better than I deserved for an effort (the B on my geometry final, the better grade in European Civ than my roommate (who actually went to class regularly), a much higher math SAT than I had any right to), so I do know what it's like to do better than you deserve. But I also know what it's like to try your very best and simply not make the grade.

That's why I'm so glad about grace. We can't possibly do enough, we can't possibly be good enough to deserve heaven. I'm so glad we don't believe in a scales of justice test at the end of life where what you've done gets weighed and only if you've done enough are you allowed in to heaven. I'm glad that every single thing I do that's a good thing is inspired by God's grace, enabled by God's grace, and crowned by God's grace that it's not just about my efforts.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Is the Glass Half Full?

One of the facts of life, especially for idealists, is that we live in a fallen world with fallen people. Nothing is ever perfect. Even the most perfect picnic probably has a few mosquitoes at it as well as people who like their burgers more or less done than you do.

I've been pondering this a lot lately. I've gotten pretty disillusioned about a particular group of people and I'm realizing that the reason for it is that I had very high expectations that are met by some members of the group, but not others. The group isn't religious, it's a purely secular group with very specific goals. It's a group that I will always be part of a sub-set of and that sub-set may well be shrinking.

The Church can sometimes feel the same way, especially to enthusiastic converts. Sometimes it's easy to be disillusioned there as well. We come into the Church expecting people to actually believe and live what She teaches, and a lot of the time we find that even some of the priests and bishops may not. Today, newly ordained Father Naples talked about the fact that priests are ordinary people with an extraordinary charism. He explained it so well, and it was a reminder once again, that what we honor in a priest is not his ordinariness and his failings, but the character that was imparted to him at ordination. We can choose to see the glass as half full and pray for an even deeper filling of the Holy Spirit and more gifts of wisdom and faith, or we can see the glass as half empty and pick at the ordinariness and failings. If we spend our time picking things apart we will miss the very gifts that the charism of ordination offers to us as lay people.

This is also true as we deal with other believers or as I deal with the people in the organization I'm thinking about. I can value the good things and strive to help people become better, more knowledgeable or I can carp about the fact that they sometimes seem to act contrary to the purposes of the organization itself. My mom always said you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar and I suspect that giving the people I disagree with respectful treatment instead of sarcasm probably will yield more positive results.

It's hard being an idealist in a less than perfect world. I've spent a lot of time trying to achieve the standards that some people have set, only to fall desperately short. I'm not a perfect person, I don't live with perfect people, and lots of love is frequently needed to cover the multitude of imperfections. However, I choose to see the glass as half full (or at least I try to - I'll admit to being a disappointed idealist a lot of the time).

If you expect perfection or nothing, you'll usually get nothing.