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Between Fear and Pride Lies Meaning

June 24, 2017

Sometimes, more often than I’d care to admit, I fall so short of my aspirations that I am tempted to give up and give in to the very habits I despise. But that is the sheer stupidity of self-pity. Indulging my flaws does not make me into the one to whom I aspire. It just gives me another reason to disdain myself.

Some of these moments are ones of spiritual disillusionment. Ones that reflect the recognition that what I too often offer the Lord is an insipid faith characterized by lukewarm gratitude, tepid passion and less than fervent penitence. These are moments which remind me that grace can be an acquired taste in which one has to somehow become comfortable, and yet not complacent, with the perpetual discomfort of one’s spiritual mediocrity. No matter how much I learn about myself, each new discovery reveals that I know nearly nothing, and so I warily look forward to and yet continually despair of my own spiritual progress.

Others are moments of vocational doubt. Are my dreams nothing but a “dream within a dream” from which I am destined to awake to the sober clarity of an unbudging, unsympathetic and unflattering portrait of my own abilities? Or, dare I dream to dream, simultaneously fearing both failure and success, forcing myself to walk a path on which there is no immediate or foreseeable reward or comfort—all the while being reminded by my oversized heroes how foolish my aspirations might be, could be, actually are? What is the alternative but another sort of discomfort that comes from choosing safety over striving. The recognition that one is choosing the familiar and prescribed because it brings the humiliating comfort of placing one’s life and destiny in the hands of someone else—and advancing his or her dreams, realizing his or her potential. 

Life is lived at the knife edge of aspiration and apathy, comfort and distress, heartache and hope, passion and resignation, grit and aversion. This edge drops off precipitously on either side into obscurity and irrelevance. Every person’s edge is at a different height, but we all walk the line between failure and mediocrity, risk and irrelevance. 

The beauty of this life is that our different aptitudes and abilities, when properly realized, fit together harmoniously. To what extent is the body of Christ being constrained because of a hand that is afraid to be a hand and, instead, seeks safety in being a toe? We hear often and appropriately of the danger of pride aspiring to be more than it ought. Is there also not a danger in the one who does not rightly aspire because of fear? 

Effective service, and by extension, meaning, is that golden mean between the extremes of the vices of fear and pride. It would be illuminating, if not reassuring, and almost certainly sobering, to understand the struggles of my own heroes. Most assuredly, they have learned not to take themselves so seriously and have most likely been shamed, at some point, by their lack of genuine shame. 

In taking their eyes off themselves, they have learned the art of serving. Eclipsed by their own heroes, painfully aware I suspect of their own inadequacies, they have gotten over themselves sufficiently to become heroes to the next generation.  

Each of us can be a hero to someone, once we get beyond our preconceived notions of our calling and our position in it—once we overcome both our fear and our pride. We do that when we cease to be the means to our own ends, and muster the courage and humility to become the means by which others may achieve theirs. 

We needn’t be a hero ... to be a hero. Most heroes, I suspect, have never thought of themselves in such terms.

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