Oh ye of little will

Will ShakespeareI disappoint myself a lot and always have: I continually set expectations for myself only to fail to meet them. This makes me cross.

I have always envied those who appear to have bags of energy and an iron self-discipline. I seem to have zeroes in both of these attributes. When I was at school and college I performed magnitudes better when external discipline was high, often falling to pieces when left to my own devices (A-level Maths being a particularly striking example). Similarly, I have always performed best in team sports where I can rely on others to help set the pace and provide persistent focus and motivation. In the workplace, I have learnt to harness deadlines in order to drive myself, but even now I often rely on last-minute efforts to deliver.

The fact that I am also something of a perfectionist just makes the situation a whole lot worse. I cannot imagine a set of characteristics more likely to end in disappointment and self-criticism than being a lazy, weak-willed perfectionist.

I also recognise that this disappointment is, in itself, a disappointment. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish saint, wrote:

“[Some beginners], in becoming aware of their own imperfections, grow angry with themselves in an unhumble impatience. So impatient are they about these imperfections that they want to become saints in a day.“

Now, at this point I just want to hit myself on the head with a heavy thing.  Not only do I have a whole bunch of imperfections but I am also unhumbly impatient? Aaargh!

Paul clearly struggled with this as well:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Romans 7:15

And again

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19

It seems to me that I know what is right 9 times out of 10. I do what is right about 5 times out of 10. So 4 times out of 10, something else, other than my will, has control over me.

My question, then, is why has God not given me more will power? Why am I so easily distracted? So easily tempted? I have asked God for more will power on innumerable occasions and I am still frustrated he has not answered this particular prayer. Surely it makes sense for him to give me better self-discipline? I am bound to be a better servant to him, am I not?

At Spring Harvest in Minehead this year, I attended a seminar led by Tania Bright-Cook (who is a lovely person by the way) entitled Stuff Happens: Coming to Terms with Disappointment. You can find the session here https://www.essentialchristian.com/tania-bright-cook/teaching/coming-to-terms-with-disappointment

I found the session very honest, very engaging and very helpful. One particular point, Tania made, has stuck with me. It is not a silver bullet, but it does help.

It was: choose life. You cannot change the past, but you can change the future.

I really need to remember this. Each time I fall short, move on. Don’t dwell on mistakes and failures. Each decision I make is a new chance to take the right road and I need not let past failures influence future choices.

I am a work-in-progress, a beginner as John of the Cross puts it, and God loves me. Intellectually, I am aware of this and fully accept it and I try hard not to let my disappointment in myself colour the way I live my life. Sometimes this is hard.

Just a little more will power, Lord… Please.


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3 thoughts on “Oh ye of little will

  1. Maybe part of the problem is how you define ‘fail’. When I was at school, if I got 9/10 in a test rather than being delighted at doing so well I’d be disappointed at being just 1 mark off 10/10. This is something I’m only now starting to understand, 30 years later.

    The key is to start giving yourself credit for what you DO achieve rather than scolding yourself for not reaching what you COULD achieve, otherwise you’ll be disappointed more often than not.

  2. Wonderful blog … great writing ability. Absolutely love your comment “I cannot imagine a set of characteristics more likely to end in disappointment and self-criticism than being a lazy, weak-willed perfectionist”, I chuckled whilst relating! … be blessed today, Tarn

    • Thanks Tania, very encouraging words. Do let me know if there is anything I can do to make the blog better!

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