People sometimes wonder what it is that causes me to groan about my inbox. Mainly, it is the realisation that even if I lived to be 100 and devoted three or four hours a day to it, I would never really answer all the emails or enquiries we receive. The fact that I am tempted to think some of them as, ah, unnecessary, only adds to the complicated feelings of guilt and irritation that tend to sweep over me as I survey the morning’s intake. Fortunately, I’m a fairly equable person, so I work slowly through the various requests as best I can: explaining Catholic teaching, identifying paintings and texts where I can, gently explaining why I can’t help identify ‘Aunty Mary who was a nun in 1900s’, referring people back to the questions already answered on our websites. Inevitably, the backlog of those awaiting answers grows day by day, and I feel worse and worse about those pushed to the back of the queue by a combination of laziness and reluctance on my part. Then there are the ‘haters and baiters’ who are sometimes disarmed by a patient, courteous response, and others who have to be ignored for the sake of one’s own sanity. Just occasionally I’ll throw caution to the winds and allow myself to say what I could say without hesitation were I seen as a barrister or a banker rather than a Benedictine nun, but then I must be prepared for the howl of indignant protest that will follow; and truth to tell, I’m not always ready for that.
I am sure that, mutatis mutandis, every reader of this blog could identify with some of what I’ve written. In your case, it may not be emails that trouble you but the demands of your job or family and friends, and the secret fear that you may not be up to them. Most of us have to worry about something: ensuring we can meet our bills being not the least of them. Even the scholar, disporting himself or herself in the groves of Academe, has to keep publishing to meet the expected targets (cue for wry smile from academic readers). It is very easy, as well as true, to say that worry is a great hindrance in the spiritual life; but unless we are unusually blessed, not worrying about anything is a counsel of unattainable perfection. The only solution I can propose is the one I myself adopt: chapter 68 of the Rule of St Benedict, On Doing the Impossible. I complain to the Lord, insist that I’m not up to what he asks, and then get on with things. The point being that God does not ask perfection of us, only that we try. It is we who are the perfectionists, not God. If you doubt that, look around you this morning. From the faces on the train to the shape of the streets and the sogginess of the January grass, everything derives its beauty and character from the fact that it isn’t ‘perfect’. The messiness of life, its failures and struggles, are exactly what make it a grace and a blessing. The secret of my inbox is to have come half-way to learning that myself.