Are you an Idealist or Realist? Personally, I tend to be a bit of an idealist which can be both good and bad. I have high expectations and I’m continually seeking to improve myself. In general, I think my idealism is a good thing. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect?” (Mt 5:48)
But, for idealists like you and I, Jesus’ words in Matthew can lead us a lot of disappointment and discouragement if we’re not careful. Maybe we start to beat ourselves up for not reaching a goal or, maybe, for not even setting one to begin with. All of those “shoulds” in our lives like a new exercise routine, daily prayer, or maybe even decluttering our house can begin to weigh on us and keep us from even trying.
Or, maybe the disappointment and discouragement you feel is directed towards institutions and organizations that you thought were “better than that.” Many Americans and American Catholics have been experiencing discouragement in our leadership over the last year or two. And I’ve fallen prey to that as well.
Be warned-disappointment and discouragement can shake your faith if you let it. So, we have to temper our high ideals with a realistic view of the world. And we can take a cue from Jesus here. You may be surprised that I bring up Jesus as a model of a realistic view of the world. After all, He had some pretty high ideals, right? But Jesus knew the world and the evil that was within it better than anyone else (except His Father). He didn’t deny that it existed. He didn’t have a rose-colored-glasses view of the world. And in the Gospel of Luke (17:1-5), He tried to share that view with His disciples.
Jesus told them that sin was going to be in the world. He didn’t say, “Now that I’m here, there won’t be sin and everyone’s going to be on board with God’s plan.” No. He said that there would be sin in the world. However, He didn’t give them permission to partake in sin. No, Jesus also told them to stay away from it and to warn others about it.
There’s that balance of realism and idealism. Realism — there’s sin in the world. Idealism — stay away from it. But Realistic Jesus didn’t leave it at that. He went on to prepare the disciples what to do “in case of sin.” He told them what to do when sin happens: ask for forgiveness and offer it to others who ask for it. Notice that he didn’t say, “When you sin, get really discouraged, think you’re not worthy of forgiveness, and just give up on being better.” He said, when we sin, ask for forgiveness, give forgiveness, and move on. A pretty simple and helpful plan of action, wouldn’t you say?
Jesus didn’t leave us without tools to help us in the fight against sin. He loves us too much to just give us high ideals without a way to deal with our failures. But, He also didn’t back off of His ideals to make it “easier” on us. He expects more from us than what we think is realistic.
If you’re an idealist like me, remember that Jesus knew we would mess up and that we weren’t perfect. And, if you’re a realist, remember that Jesus wants us to rise above the reality of the world to become perfect like His heavenly Father. We just won’t fully reach that goal until we get to heaven.
Copyright 2018 Laura B Nelson