Shrinking Back from a Beautiful Calling

Curled worm

I have a lot of partially written blog posts. Even partially written books. It’s fun to think about writing. And when I do finish something, perfectionism ties me up. I can identify with the worm in the picture, how it curls up to reduce its surface vulnerability. This thoughtful confession caught my attention and helped me see my problem in a new light:

Instead of engaging in class discussions and seeking out opportunities to improve, I spent that first year pulling back into the shadows, believing I had nothing much to contribute, hoping no one would notice when I wrote something stupid.

I happened across a passage in Aquinas on the virtue of courage, and a contrasting vice he called pusillanimity, which means “smallness of soul.” Those afflicted by this vice, shrink back from all that God has called them to be. When faced with the effort and difficulty of stretching themselves to the great things of which they are capable, they cringe and say, “I can’t.”

In short, the pusillanimous rely on their own powers and focus on their own potential for failure, rather than counting on God’s grace to equip them for great work in his kingdom—work beyond anything they might have dreamed of for themselves. Reading Aquinas’s account of this vice was like looking at myself in the mirror for the first time. I had a name for my problem, one that made sense of my anxieties and struggles

(Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices)

I find myself shrinking back in fear and self-protection when something is challenging and risky. When I feel vulnerable to criticism or mockery. Better to avoid failure than try to put my work out there. I shrink because attempting excellence makes me feel more broken–like I’m in over my head. I want to eliminate the feeling of being broken. I want to preempt shame.

Fear of Speaking

Reading DeYoung’s honest passage helped me confess my problem as sinful fear rooted in an idolatrous craving for human approval. I shrink from the demands of love at home, with my friends, and in public.

Facing the depth of my fear and confessing it to God regularly has been surprisingly helpful. Excusing the idol as “introversion” or “shyness” only strengthens its power.

I have been given beautiful and demanding work for God’s glory. It’s beyond my abilities. I often shrink from this beautiful calling because “I’m too broken.” But God seems to be calling me to embrace my brokenness as an asset. He wants to make beauty from these shards.

Courage does not come from being in control or have things all reasoned out. Nor does it come from saying everything in a perfectly balanced way. And can’t think my way to courage. All I can do is work hard on my craft, put out honest work out into the world, and entrust it to the One one who lives and reigns.

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