One of the greatest hindrances to holiness, if not the greatest, is impatience with our imperfections.
It feels so counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Surely we’re meant to be impatient with our sins, our weaknesses, our faults and imperfections. If we’re not impatient to get rid of them, then they’ll never leave, right?
Not so fast, cautions St Francis de Sales.
Know that the virtue of patience is that which secures us the greatest perfection; and if we must have patience with others, we must also have it with ourselves. Those who aspire to the pure love of God have more need of patience with themselves than with others. (St Francis de Sales, Consoling Thoughts on Trials of an Interior Life, ch. 6)
We need patience with ourselves.
I might think my impatience with sin is a sure sign of holiness but often, it’s just a sign of pride. I can’t imagine that I, a good Christian who does All The Right Things could possibly do something that sinful or stupid. I’m better than that! Sure, other Christians might sin but I hold myself to higher standard. Other lesser mortals might make mistakes but my pride cannot bear that. God forbid that I should turn out to be just another miserable sinner or worse, an incompetent ninny. (You can my priorities, can’t you?)
So when I do sin, I’m astonished and frustrated. “How can this be??” wails my inflated ego. What dreadful calamity has befallen the universe that I, I who know better, should sin!
This, guys, is old-fashioned pride. It’s pride masquerading as humility. A good priest once told me that if our ego can’t make us the best, it’ll make us the worst.
The difficult thing about this sort of pride is that it looks like humility. That’s why it’s so dangerous. It’s easier to spot and take out a bank robber in a balaclava than it is a white-collar crook who’s learnt to cover his tracks. A bank robber than steal a lot but the corporate embezzler can steal millions — and you’d never even realise.
True humility brings joy and self-forgetfulness. Whereas beating yourself up for that stupid mistake makes you angry, anxious and miserable. You spend forever thinking about yourself, and what you did, and why you did it. How could anyone be so stupid?
Impatience with our imperfections is no virtue.
When we are impatience with our faults, we’re actually forgetting that we are weak, kind of pathetic little creatures. It’s just a fact.
We must acknowledge the truth: we are miserable creatures, who can scarcely do any good; but God, who is infinitely good, is content with our little works. (St Francis de Sales, Consoling Thoughts on Trials of an Interior Life, ch. 6)
God is patient with us. He isn’t surprised by our imperfections so why should we be?
As a father pities his children,
so the Lord pities those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)
As a recovering perfectionist, I know there is a tremendous freedom in this.
Finally, you can start to breathe. You’re not living up to an impossibly high standard of super-human perfection. God never asks us to do that anyway. It’s a burden we place on ourselves. And oh it is good to let that burden go.
I never knew there could be such freedom in saying, I am a sinner — and being able to say it with a smile. I can smile because my good Father loves me anyway.
He will, by His grace and in His timing, bring me to perfection in Christ. It won’t be my false idol of perfection. It won’t be a fretting, anxious sort of perfection. It will be far, far better. It will be Christ in me, the hope of glory. (cf. Colossians 1:27)
All I’ve got to do is trust Him.
He’s got this.