The Spirituality of Pushing Yourself
In high school I had the same teacher for AP United States History and AP European History. She was hilarious, inspiring, crazy intelligent and the perfect liberal foe to my budding conservative instincts. When I think back on her class, I think about the mind-shaping debates and the awful document based questions (the bane of any AP student’s existence)… but most of all I think about how ridiculously discouraged Mrs. Schick made me feel. I consistently got Cs on my essays and tests and, for a girl who took great pride in her report card, it was immensely frustrating. But every time I came home with a bad grade, my mother would gently remind me that Mrs. Schick was probably an excellent student herself, and therefore had really high standards for what she wanted her students to achieve. In other words, every bad grade meant: you’re capable of more, try harder. In the end, I don’t think I learned more from any other teacher in high school.
I grew up surrounded by Mrs. Schicks. My private violin teacher was sweet, but she knew how to get the message across that I wasn’t practicing enough. She could sense when I was being lazy and would take no part in that. Because of her sometimes disappointed looks and big goals for me, I worked my tail off and made All State Orchestra all four years of high school. My dad has a PhD in chemical engineering and patiently sat with his two science illiterate daughters for hours, trying to make us understand moles, elements and equations. He encouraged us to take advanced science classes even though he knew it’d lead to more late nights figuring out equations and more tears of frustration when we were deceived into thinking we’d never pass. We both did!
Finally, there was a group of ten or so girls (Terry’s Girls, as we were known around the parish), who started singing in Mid Choir when we were in third grade and attended every single Wednesday rehearsal and Sunday Mass until we graduated from high school and moved away. As we grew, both individually and as a group, Mrs. Coggeshall, our incredible liturgist, would introduce more and more challenging pieces. She gave us music that she expected us to learn, even if they were four part harmonies with difficult rhythms. There was never any option of giving up; we worked on them until they were stunning.
As an adult, I’ve come to realize how much I benefitted from having people push me in all different areas of my life. From my parents to my teachers, there were always people challenging me and telling me I could do better and patiently working with me until I achieved my goals. Upon reflection, I’ve realized that, without them, I’ve allowed myself to grow lazy. Since I don’t have people encouraging me to work harder and to think of lofty goals to put my mind to, I’ve grown comfortable in my complacency. I’ve grown lazy both in the ways I use my time and the kinds of things I aspire to. I console myself, thinking, I’m sweet to the people in my life, and I try to serve others… that’s all God wants from me. I’m starting to realize, however, that complacency and laziness are two of the devil’s most powerful weapons. God gave us talents, skill, and intellect to glorify Him. What are we doing on this earth, if we’re not doing our best to utilize all the gifts God gave us, every single day?
The fact is, we should aspire to be the absolute best at whatever God has called us to. When you’re an adult, self-imposed discipline is really the most important tool at your disposal. Plenty of us mercifully have generous parents and wonderful spouses, but we don’t have that specialized person to consistently tell us to go the extra mile at whatever the particular skill is. No one’s there to tell you to go for a run at six in the morning. No one’s there to illuminate inconvenient truths, like that your house could be cleaner or your dinners could be more creative and planned out. No one’s there to tell you to pursue hobbies, even if there’s no real purpose to it. Excuses abound (it’s too cold out, I’m not feeling great, I don’t want to wake up earlier, have been my most persistent culprits) and they’re really silly. By now we should be able to distinguish between what we’re actually limited by and what we perceive to be hurdles we’re too lazy to attempt. Be a self-starter! When you read the lives of the saints, lots of them are energized and excited to try their hardest every day to use what God’s given them to help others and to praise Him. Of course, this takes serious discernment about what we should be attempting and what is reasonable for us to ask of ourselves. At the end of the day, however, God gives us talents to glorify Him, so glorify Him!!