For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Since I was a little girl, I aspired to holiness like my brother aspired to be a professional football player. Religion seemed so simple: follow the rules, life goes great, you go to heaven. And, I was great at following the rules! It just came naturally to me, kind of like a talent. But there are by-products to a character fastened to rigidity: a prideful heart filled with more judgement than empathy for others, for starters. At fifteen, however, everything began to shift when I fell in love as a teenager and was plunged into a battle to the death for my chastity. I knew the rules, but had no idea how to keep them. Who tells you how to be young, in love, and chaste? When all I want is to do God’s will, why does it seem so difficult to discern how? Furthermore, who tells you how to survive mental illness, infant loss, and all manner of tragedies that we endure on this earth?
There is something left out in the whole spirituality/religion equation. We are all given the rule book. We are told, “you’ll get through,” “God never gives you more than you can handle,” blah, blah, blah. We play with a rudimentary knowledge of the game, but without any idea of what to do when the third baseman has the ball and we are caught in a rundown between 2nd and 3rd. Do we run back to second, or charge third? How about when your heart is shattered and you have to pick yourself up off the floor and charge back into the world? Know one can really, truly tell you what to do when you’re in a pickle.
I’ve survived enough pickles now to know that the reality of the Christian, human experience supersedes any rule book we may have adopted. I’m not perfect, and I certainly strike out more often than I hit a home run. I’ve been trying for over thirty years now to figure out what “holy” means. People are holy, I’ve noticed, after they die, or from afar. They are hardly ever holy up close, unless holy simply means “full of holes,” allowing Jesus to shine through all the more (my favorite definition). Maybe defining holiness is only possible when we can look at the whole of a person, balance the scales, see the stats of a career and not just a single game?
The problem for all of us living saint wannabe’s is that we’re still in the game, and our game is messy. We drive to church and pray piously in the pew after screaming at our families to get ready. We pray for the children in India and neglect our neighbors. We rush to do the holy things and forget to nurture and care wholly for ourselves. We hold fast to our religious beliefs, then judge and gossip and envy behind the closed doors of our own hearts. We all fail miserably so much of the time and yet can still soar to lofty heights of self-sacrifice, courage, and love.
I struggle to balance my failings with my fervent desire for the right. I struggle to define healthy boundaries within which I can give but not give myself away in the process. I still grapple with the rulebook, to flesh out black and white commandments. I scrutinize myself with my knowledge, and then am frustrated that I don’t know more. This life of constantly being imperfect can drive a perfectionist crazy! But it is in all of my failings, my flaws, my humanity that Jesus abides and fills and pours Himself out of me. I must be emptied, hollowed-out of my perfect to be filled up with Jesus.
I hope this blog can be an honest reflection of my struggles, as one thirty-something Catholic wife, mother of a son in heaven and two on earth, daughter, sister, and friend, trying to live an authentic, Christian whole life . . . not as a saint, but certainly as a saint wannabe.
Origininally published September 7, 2012