"If we really want ... to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo."
—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
It's Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and many people take this time to remind themselves how far short they've fallen from their New Years resolutions - or at least to renew their commitment to changing. Charting a course from me to the awesome person I want to become is not easy.
It's tempting to set impossible goals. I thought about doing a morning routine for Lent in which every day I'd wake up at the same time to eat, exercise, pray, meditate, write, and read. Because I admire people who do that kind of thing. Likewise it's also tempting to buy a bunch of stuff - a cargo bicycle, say, or a new journal - that a better version of myself might find useful. Often I check out huge piles of library books on hobbies I wish I was good at (e.g. bird identification, puppetry, bread-making). But stuff doesn't make you a different person. Surrounding yourself with new stuff, or setting extreme goals and strict rules, is a cheap and ineffective way of dealing with the anxiety of falling short.
I'd love to wake up tomorrow a totally different person, but it's never happened to me before, and it's not likely to happen in the future. This would be reason to despair, except for the fact that I have changed. For instance, I'm considerably more open, emotionally and spiritually, than I was a year ago, and as a result I'm less anxious and more joyful and considerate. I'm considerably healthier than I was in high school. I'm considerably less shy than ever before. But I haven't actually observed myself in the process of changing, only seen the effects in retrospect. Somehow, it happened, beyond my consciousness.
We want to be in control, and to change ourselves by some Herculean force of will. But for change to last, it must span the whole range of willpower, from the pinnacles to the lowest valleys. And because a tiny iota of willpower is only sufficient for one tiny step, one tiny step has to be enough.
So the trick is to forget about the big picture, accept the grace of God (eternally forgiving us for being who we are), and commit ourselves to small things. Saying hello to someone I pass on the sidewalk feels like a drop in the bucket compared to the oceanic task of becoming friendlier, but one is achievable here and now, while the other is forever on the horizon. I must trust that when I care for the tiny things, scattered all around me, the big picture will take care of itself.
Do something small today.