This may turn out to be a slightly more personal post than I’m inclined to produce. Not that I’m experiencing a quandary in my personal life — in fact, I’m not even sure I have a personal life — but that I’m experiencing a quandary in my spiritual life. It’s a quandary that I’m inclined to share.
A strange conflict is taking place between desire be positive and optimistic in life, and my moral obligation to assume responsibility for my choices.
It may seem at first that the two are unrelated. How would a sense of obligation to assume responsibility for my choice conflict with a desire to remain positive? Aren’t the most happy people the ones who do assume responsibility for their personal choices, rather than blame their misfortunes on others?
Apparently, this is the case. So let me explain what I mean.
I am a very introspective person who is continually examining his behavior. I often find great fault in my choices. Then I feel guilty for having made the wrong choice. The more wrong choices I make, the more guilty I feel. When I feel sufficiently guilty, I find myself despairing. I believe that my personality is impossible — that it will never become any better than it is today, and like-as-not worsen with age.
Today I happen to be in a very good mood. I slept a good six hours and had a nice two and a half mile run in the morning. A good night’s sleep followed by a good run tends to lift my spirits. So, while I’m feeling good, I’d like to examine this dynamic.
First off, it is possible that some of the choices over which I feel guilty are not actually wrong. For example, I felt guilty for not being there for my daughter last night when she wanted critique on some of her work. But was it actually wrong that I was unavailable? Not really. I was simply unavailable. Not everything that one feels guilty about is an indicator that one has done something wrong.
Secondly, it’s possible that I am forgetting that Jesus died for all of my bad choices, and that I am cleansed from my former sins. I almost hesitate to include this part. We’ve probably all met believers who rationalize all kinds of immoral behavior on the basis of having been “forgiven.” For these people, the words of St. Paul in Romans Six are lost:
Shall we then sin that grace my abound? God forbid! — Romans 6:1
But I don’t think I fit that modus operandi. I’m a lot more uptight about my personal peccadilloes than many believers. Often, people tell me I’m “too hard on myself.” While that may be true, I don’t think it ought to be a justification for moral laxity.
For example, I sometimes don’t exercise due restraint in social situations, or over email. I feel as though I am spewing my overactive mind upon innocent recipients of email replies. Then, I have to apologize for the behavior, which leads to an unwanted discussion with said recipients. I feel as though I am often having to “put out fires” that I myself have started.
So now you see how my desire to be fully accountable for my actions can make a dent in my positive spirit. What is tempting – and what I try not to do — is to base my positive feelings on a comparison between myself and others. Suppose I say: “Well, at least I’m better than John Doe. At least I don’t try to pull that kind of stuff.” If I do so, how is this any different than refusing to look at my own actions?
Not much, I fear. Or am I only being hard on myself?
Maybe you know. Until recently, when someone said — yet again – that I am “too hard on myself,” I honestly had no idea what they were talking about. In my world, if anything, I’m too lax.
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