As we consider Christ’s journey of love towards the cross, many are taking up new disciplines or laying aside the things that weigh them down on this journey to resurrection. It is easy, whether in familiar routine or on an unfamiliar path of new commitments, to become discouraged with the distance between where we are and where we think we should be.
There is a legalist in me who places burdens on me he is unwilling (and unable) to help me carry. I must remember that this is not the voice of Jesus, whose burden is marked by its ease. I have to let go of my expectations in order to receive the gift God has in mind.
Disappointment in myself can also rise from the terrible tendency for comparison. Gregory of Nyssa, whose Life of Moses offers the journey of a legendary God follower as a pattern for my own growth in faith, begins by addressing both my expectations for myself, and my tendency to look over my shoulder to see how I stack up to others on this road.
Our brother Greg offers this view of growth: if perfection is limitless, then it is impossible for finite beings to reach it. Although a Rewards Club Member at Spiritual Big & Tall, Gregory suggests, humbly,
It is beyond my power to encompass perfection in my treatise or to show in my life the insights of the treatise. And perhaps I am not alone in this. Many great men [and women], even those who excel in virtue, will admit that for them such an accomplishment as this is unattainable.
But, he adds, that is no cause for fear.
Perfection is unattainable, he reasons. So what are we after? Following Paul, he suggests it is not an end we are after, but a way of walking: we never stop “straining toward those things that are still to come.” Because “stopping in the race of virtue marks the beginning of the race of evil.”
Maybe the perfect human being is the one who is growing, says Gregory. Maybe progress is the goal.
We are not perfected by what we get right, or disqualified by what we’ve got wrong, but meet grace as we strain towards hope. We’re not worried about who is going to get There first, because there’s no There here. Instead, we look ahead to those who started before us, on the same path, in the same hope, and their stories help us learn how to keep running the race.
Perhaps, then, the memory of anyone distinguished in life would be enough to fill our need for a beacon of light and to show us how we can bring our soul to the sheltered harbor of virtue where it no longer has to pass the winter amid the storms of life or be shipwrecked in the deep water of evil by the successive billows of passion. It may be for this very reason that the daily life of those sublime individuals is recorded in detail, that by imitating those earlier examples of right action those who follow them may conduct their lives to the good.
The goal is a way of life towards God’s invitation. We turn away from what we have failed to do, where others might stir our envy, or despair of the distance to the end. We lean ahead, eyes on those marking the way, feet following the straining of our hearts, lives sheltered by the grace into which we press, treading in the prints of Christ who blazed the trail.
May God free us from the self-focused fear that threatens our faith. May God free us to love those who walk with us in this hope, to become beacons for those finding their way. God bless us in our way forward together.