A few years ago my middle school aged son got into the car and I handed him a book and said, ”Hold this please.” He said, ”Is this a Bible?” I said, ”No, Seven Storey Mountain.” He replied, ”Merton. It’s always Merton with you.”
He’s not wrong.
This morning I picked up The New Seeds of Contemplation for about the millionth time and opened it at random and this jumped out and pierced my heart, like nothing else.
“Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.
“But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone.
“For there is only one thing that can satisfy love and reward it, and that is You alone.”
I do stuff. I do stuff because it protects me. Well, let’s say it gives me the illusion of protection. It occupies my time and my hands so that my heart can ignore what may cause pain. It is cowardice, really. I didn’t start out that way, of course. It was the way I coped with scary things in my childhood. Be busy. Be so busy, be so occupied that maybe peace could be created or at least semblance of peace could be loosely held together. But now that I am quite grown up, it is cowardice. And I am learning to let it go.
Along with the defense mechanism of doing all the things, I am letting go of loving for the sake of perfection. I’m addicted to perfection. (Does not manifest in my housekeeping, I am afraid.) But it does manifest in my character and in my passions. I must be perfect. I must be beyond reproach. When I started my new job and was nervous my eldest said to be, ”Mom, you know that you are going to mess up. You should make peace with that.” And she’s right. So right. (And let me just say, I am so happy that my kids are not so afraid of failure that they decide not to try at all. At least they don’t have to grapple with that in their 40s…)
I grew up with a little axiom that said, ”Good is the enemy of the best.” This is doctrine and dogma, y’all. Do not settle. Good enough is not good enough. The best is the goal. Nothing is accepted shy of excellence.
This phrase is so much a part of my DNA that it wasn’t until a couple years ago when a colleague said, ”Daja, perfect is not a stick with which to beat the good” that it occurred to me that this axiom was deeply flawed and destructive. The way in which I lived this ideal was a sin against love.
Love that loves for the sake of the Beloved and not for the supposed perfection created in me. Love that is satisfied. Love that is at peace. Love that doesn’t strive, become jealous, fret, or come disguised as activity. All counterfeits will fall away—even the ones that look like perfection.
As the well quoted passage says, three things abide: Faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.