A few months ago I wrote a blog post about what I had been learning about humility. In it I shared some realizations I had about how difficult true humility is, but also how important it is. I would argue that it is the most crucial virtue that one can possess when attempting to be a follower of Christ, because Jesus was (and is) nothing if not humble.
I re-read that post recently. And I was a bit discouraged as I did. Because I realized that I was still struggling to grow in humility. I realized that, as much as I ache for the Heart of Christ, I am still so far from mastering the imitation of it. His Heart is humble, gentle, so eager to give love and mercy, and I’m just not there yet. And I realized that I am not exactly succeeding at another virtue: being merciful. I decided this Lent that I would try extra hard to practice mercy, but that hasn’t been going as well as I want it to. Virtue is hard. Who’d have thunk it?
But I also cringed as I re-read that post. Because as I did, I recalled the writings of some of my favorite souls that I had read in the time between writing that blog post and now. I remembered how St. Therese wrote to her sister that it is not our virtues that God loves, but our poverty, and our willingness to embrace that nothingness. I remembered the countless times that Jesus told St. Faustina that He would never turn away any soul who comes to Him with nothing but trust and a bit of good will, and how it is not results that please Him but simply our efforts, however successful or unsuccessful. I recalled how many times Jesus said the words “come as you are” to Gabrielle Bossis throughout her book He and I.
All of these women knew (and were sometimes told directly by Christ!) that He doesn’t value our virtues as much as He simply values us, and that He doesn’t value our successful attempts at being good as much as He values our sincere efforts. I had gotten so caught up in my pursuit of humility and mercy, and so discouraged in the face of my shortcomings in those virtues, that I forgot that Jesus loves me even when I fail at being humble and merciful. I was worshipping success and perfection, and that was only leaving me heartbroken and empty.
I had forgotten that Jesus doesn’t say “give me your successes and then I’ll be pleased with you.” His love and His help and His mercy aren’t rewards that He’s holding onto for the day I finally show perfect behavior. He doesn’t trade His graces for my good results. He says “give me your heart. Come as you are.” Especially during this season of Lent, where we are called to penance and to pay special attention to the things that stand in our way of loving God and neighbor. And my heart isn’t always pretty. It’s full of sin, of burdens that feel too heavy for me to carry, of shame, and yes, of failed attempts at being good and virtuous. That hurts, let me tell you. All I want is to make Jesus happy and I feel like in failing at virtue, I’m failing at pleasing Him. If my Lenten plans aren’t going well, surely He is disappointed in me.
But that’s not how it works. Jesus doesn’t let my mess and my failures stand in His way of calling me His daughter and giving me what I need. He doesn’t need my goodness or my successes. Those don’t change the way He feels about me, any more than my sins and my faults do. He loves me for me, not my virtues or good behavior, and my very acts of trying, even if they don’t produce good results, give Him joy. Please don’t hear me saying that I advocate against works because I don’t. If I’m going to call myself a Christian, I have to live like it. Yes, He wants me to try to be good. Yes, He hopes I succeed in that. But His love for me isn’t dependent on whether I do.
We are all sinners. We all fall short of our call to be loving and holy. If Jesus could only be pleased if we were successful at being good, imagine how unhappy He would be with us! But this, blessedly, is not His way. His love for us isn’t based on our merits or how many successes we bring to Him. He loves us simply because we were created and redeemed by Him. Even in our failures. Even when we come to Him with empty hands and broken hearts and nothing concrete to show for our attempts at being good.
Because oh, how He values and loves that emptiness, because it is only when we present Him with our gaping nothingness that we give Him permission to be our Savior. He did not come for the healthy, He said. He did not come for our righteousness, our virtues, our successes. He came for us, battered and wounded and messy as we are. Giving Him our successes adds nothing to and speaks nothing of His greatness. But giving Him our very selves, which are so often broken and hurting and empty? That’s what He wants. That’s when He does His thing the best.
We’re about halfway through Lent. Take a look back on how your practices and sacrifices are going. If you’re doing well, wonderful! Keep going. But if you’re finding some practices harder than others, don’t be discouraged. Your Lent isn’t a failure because of that. Give Jesus your disappointment. Give Him even your unsuccessful attempts. He’s so pleased to take them and to fill up the rest.