Before I started university, family and friends warned me that the workload would be overwhelming. And despite the fact that I had handled an extraordinary workload through high school, I believed the warnings. For fear of having too much on my plate, I cut out many extracurricular activities from my life, and I psyched myself up for pulling very late nights, drowning in coffee and floundering in readings.
Needless to say, all of that happened. But it’s only now that I realize none of it had to.
I have heard various stories from friends of how certain relationships or events have unfolded, and I can’t count the number of times the stories ended with the line: “It just kinda happened, you know?”
I used to take that phrase for granted – because things do just kinda happen, right? Well, after reflecting on the times that I myself have made that excuse, I now cringe whenever I hear it.
Honestly, when my readings “just kinda didn’t get finished” it was really because “I just kinda didn’t do them.” Whoops.In the moment, “it just kinda happened” does feel like a compelling argument! And I think I understand why.
Have you ever had a request for someone but been sure that the person wouldn’t want to do it? You gear up for a full-fledged argument: step one, prepare a coherent list of points on why you’re right. Step two, practice the mature-sounding voice that you will use to tell the person that they’re overreacting.
But then sometimes (during a full moon or after a particularly good meal, perhaps) the person has actually conceded to your request and you have been left sputtering and utterly taken aback, unsure of what to do with all of the weapons that you had gathered in your defense. And suddenly, despite the fact that the outcome is what you wanted in the first place, you’re annoyed that it was so easy. You’re annoyed that it unfolded contrary to your expectations.
Expectations are key. As humans, we anticipate nearly everything: how bored we will be during a particular lecture, how delicious those cookies will taste once they’re out of the oven, and so on. And as uncomfortable as it might be to admit it, I think a lot of the time we anticipate our sinning as well. We rehearse our lies. We prepare a hurtful remark to get back at the person we’re fighting with. So things feel like they are out of our control when they happen because we already surrendered our control in the stages before they happen.
Last year, in one of my courses, I learned a definition of freedom as “habit of being.” Basically, when we start cultivating certain habits, they become part of our character. And once they are part of our character, we no longer need to think about them.
This explains why certain vices feel like “they just kinda happen.” But when we cultivate the right kinds of habits, they make us free.
For example, we become “free” to control our temper because we have practiced controlling our temper. This particularly Catholic definition of freedom explains why Our Lady, who had no attachment to sin, was as free as a human could be.
But for those of us still struggling with the effects of Original Sin, we have to begin by taking responsibility for the actions that seem to be embedded in our being. Then we psych ourselves up for the right kind of action – the virtuous, reasonable kind – and we start practising.
And one day, when we do something that is particularly charitable, we will feel like “it just kinda happened.” But we won’t have to cringe anymore.
Copyright 2014, Sarah Blake