On Not Trying Too Hard

For the last few days I have been even more disagreeable than usual. On Sunday I made a huge effort to be a little nicer, but the effort exhausted me and nearly ‘did’ for everyone else. The truth is, one can try too hard; and at this time of year, when expectations are high, one can get sucked into a spiral of ever-increasing effort which is actually self-defeating. That doesn’t mean, however, that one should simply give up, muttering, ‘That’s how it is.’ As always, there is a balance to be struck. Courtesy, consideration for others, the kindness that shows we have really seen the other — these are possible at all times and seasons. But we may have to accept (as I myself have to accept in my post-chemo days) that we cannot do everything we used to do or want to do with as much ease or aplomb as in the past. It is humbling, it is irritating, but like everything else in life that isn’t exactly what we would choose, it can be made a way of learning — about ourselves, about others, and above all, about God.

God isn’t a fairy godmother, to be invoked whenever we would like things to be other than as they are. God is. Those two words are key. During these last few days before Advent, we are confronted by the fact that God is supremely free. He does not have to conform to our ideas about him; does not have to act as we would have him act. We know that when we try too hard we usually end up making a mess of things. When we try too hard to make God be what we want him to be, we end up with a golden calf. That is worth thinking about. Who would exchange a lifeless idol for the wonder of the living God?

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