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
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.