Today, my greatest fear was realized.
I let someone down.
I experienced the most gentle of reprimands from one of my bosses at work, and it shook me up for about an hour. During that hour, I did everything from think of excuses for why I made my mistake to come up with reasons why it wasn’t really a mistake in the first place to think about how it was really my boss’ fault in the end.
It was ridiculous. My pride needs a lot of dyin’.
After I settled down and accepted the fact that I was wrong, there was one thought that still bothered me: Is this how I’m always going to react when people correct me? Am I really that proud that a simple correction or suggestion for improvement can throw me off my game for that long? How am I ever going to survive if I get this upset every time?
Many are probably familiar with this line of thinking. The smoker who is two days into quitting can’t imagine how it’s going to get better, so they give up. The man whose job is stressful doesn’t see how he’ll ever get to rest, so he turns to drinking. The mother whose baby is screaming can’t handle a lifetime of this stress, so she snaps at her husband.
We tend to extrapolate our present pain out to the end of our life. I feel this pain; there’s no discernible end to it; therefore, it’s probably going to last forever and I should do whatever I can to make myself feel better for now. And when we get into this pattern of thought, we either give up or start taking it out on other people.
I was tempted to do this after my reprimand. I wanted to stop caring so much. I kept thinking, “Why work so hard if I can’t please anyone anyway?” I wanted to turn off the emotions, because the emotions are hurtful.
But that’s the point.
We have negative reactions to things to inspire change. The brain tells the hand it is hurt when it touches the stove so that it moves away from the heat. Similarly, we feel guilt and shame and disappointment and anger for a reason: something bad happened, and we should try to do something differently the next time. If it didn’t hurt, we would have no reason to do anything differently the next time. Things would have been better for people if I had done my job differently; if I didn’t feel a small bit of shame when my boss talked to me, I wouldn’t have much reason to work harder next time.
The beauty of the Catholic faith is that it gives us hope, both in this life and in the next. Things aren’t always going to be difficult for the smoker or the employee or the mother. They aren’t always going to be difficult for me at work. Things will come easier.
We just need to practice.
The definition of virtue is a “firm and habitual disposition to the good.” The virtuous man is one to whom good actions become second nature. They become easier. Every day the smoker goes without a cigarette, they are one day closer to the withdrawals ending. They are one step closer to being temperate. Every day the man turns to prayer instead of drinking to relieve his stress, it gets less tempting (usually) the next day. He is one step closer to being a prayerful man. Every time the mother calms her temper and asks quietly and gently for help from her husband, she has calmed the storm within her that much more. She is one step closer to being patient.
I don’t have to worry about things never getting easier. I don’t have to worry about being a proud and impatient and pouty person forever; I just have to fight the urge to do so the next time I am tempted. Then I can worry about the time after that. But I can trust that the next time (or at least some time in the near future), it will be easier. Even if only by the tiniest increment. And those little steps of hope are the flagstones leading to a garden of virtue. If I can fight each little battle as best I can, even if I ultimately fail, I have strengthened my will that much more. I have taken one little step closer to the ease and rest of our Heavenly reward.
My boss, with whom I had shared my fear of failure, looked at me at the end of our meeting and said, “Look…you failed. And the world is still spinning. And you’re still breathing. It’s not that bad, is it?”
At the moment, I thought “Yes, yes it is that bad.” But the sting of my pride faded, the fear melted as the day wore on, and I took comfort in the fact that all things are passing. I hope I can remember that sooner next time. I hope I can move closer to the virtue of humility.
And I know that not only will that bring me closer to being with Christ in the next life, but it will give me freedom in this one. And that is the topic for the next post. Get excited.