I’ve come to see a pattern in many people who are trying to live a holy life: they strive for moral perfection, realize it is unachievable, give into discouragement, and then begin to strive again… Repeat cycle… Truth be told, I’ve seen this pattern in my own life as well.
It’s this idea of striving, though, that seems to be the problem. Dictionary.com defines the verb “to strive” as “to exert oneself vigorously; try hard.” Striving is not bad in itself, but there’s a negative side to it. For example, recently I’ve been striving to run more miles. However, there’s an interesting thing that happens in running: when I relax and let go, I find that my running is more enjoyable, that I get in the flow; but, when I strive to run well, I find that I get tired more quickly and even feel more pain. Another example is the golf swing. Grip a club tightly and swing really hard, and that little white ball isn’t going very far; however, loosen your grip and swing effortlessly, and that ball mysteriously flies farther than you thought you could hit it.
So what about our lives? What if we stopped striving so hard for moral and spiritual perfection? I know this sounds outrageous, particularly when we think of the words of Our Lord: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I’m not saying that we should be ambivalent about the moral and spiritual life; what I mean is what if we took a more relaxed, letting-go, approach to the moral and spiritual life?
I think that Psalms are instructive in this regard. Psalm 131 reads, “I do not busy myself with great matters, with things to sublime for me. Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.” And Psalm 37 tells us to “Be still before the Lord; wait for God” (v. 7)
I think when we focus on striving, we make it about our own effort. When we let go and surrender (like a weaned child on its mother’s lap), our focus is more on God’s love, on His desire to make us holy, on His grace. Ultimately, it is God’s grace that perfects us, not our striving. When we stop striving, we let ourselves be loved and we stop trying to earn God’s love.
I know I don’t have this whole letting-go approach figured out. I’m not even sure I know how to stop striving. I guess I’m just posing the question for our reflection. Can we take a more relaxed, letting-go approach to the moral and spiritual life without being ambivalent? I believe we can.
I’ll leave this post a bit open-ended… Feel free to add your thoughts…
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