God has given each of us unique gifts—ways to receive and live out his love that only we can do. A favorite “post from the past” invites you to celebrate the one-of-a-kind genius that is you.
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One of the challenges of the virtuous life is dodging the doubts that creep into our thoughts. A speaker I heard yesterday named some of them: “You’re no good.” “If people really knew the truth about you, they wouldn’t want to be with you.” And the ever-present, “You can’t do that.”
When I was eight, I came to love Beethoven’s sixth symphony, the Pastoral, because it told a story plain as day without paint or words—using only musical instruments. I told my funny and endlessly creative grandfather that I wanted to be a composer when I grew up. “Don’t bother,” he said, “all the good songs have already been written.”
Fast forward to now. The doubt that visits me most is, “You’re not as good at this as other people, so why even try.” Writing and giving talks gives me joy because I get to share the treasures I have found in how the saints pursued the virtuous life. I have found solid ground, clarity, peace, and freedom in learning to think and behave like them—with hope instead of fear and love instead of blame.
But, still, there are tons of people more qualified to communicate that than I.
L’Engle to the rescue
In her book A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) tells how her husband, after reading something she wrote, commented: “It’s been said better before.”
Gulp. How to recover from that?!
Her reply to herself (and us) is:
“Of course. It’s all been said better before. The thing is, it has to be said by me….We each have to say it, to say it in our own way.”
These days, in what Pope Benedict XVI calls “the tyranny of relativism,” people talk about my truth and your truth. As if existence had more than one ultimate meaning. There is only one truth, Jesus Christ, whom each of us, created in his image, “tells” in our unique way. This frees us to boldly say and do true things that have been “said better” and “done better” before, with everything we bring to it—and everything we lack.
The choreographer Martha Graham (1894-1991) wrote, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.
“It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly…. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Our dance is to live out what has been said and thought and done before in the way that only we can do—while remembering that it is not our words and actions that are the core of the dance, but rather who we are. “Who we are” is the unique thing that we bring to every situation—and it would be sad to listen to our doubts and fail to nourish that core however we can. How sad it would be to miss out on our own dance!
Even in suffering
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity described how we live out Christ’s sufferings each in a unique way. “It’s so simple,” she wrote. “He is always with us. Be always with him, through all your actions, in your sufferings, when your body is broken, remain under his gaze, see him present, living in your soul.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) exhorted us to “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” Nonsense, as in doubts and regrets.
The key is in the last line: “with too high a spirit.” The high spirit that overcomes the regrets of yesterday, doubts of today, and fears of tomorrow is the Holy Spirit, co-eternal with the Father and the Son, for whom there is no yesterday or tomorrow, but only the eternal, creative now.
Scroll down and share one way you could dance your dance (despite the doubts)!