Monday, April 7, 2008

29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.

Greetings! No poster today, so you get to hear my thoughts . . .

The first part of this Maxim, "Don't defend," seems to evoke Christ's advice to "turn the other cheek." In a world where identity and individuality matter a great deal, it's difficult to heed that, especially in situations where you know you're right.

But . . . what is "right"? My teacher trainer once told us that if we had a disagreement with a student, we should always apologize, even if we knew we were right. If the student claimed we hadn't taught them something, even if we had, we should say, "I'm sorry, I must be mistaken." If they insisted they hadn't made a mistake, we should respond, "Oh, I'm sorry -- I didn't teach you the right way! It's my fault."

Some of us balked at this, spouting the usual defenses -- they wouldn't be held accountable for their own actions, they needed to learn responsibility -- but she just said, "Who cares? Your job is to teach them, and the best way to do that is to make them feel comfortable and good about themselves. Being right doesn't matter."

I have tried (tried, and failed, but I try still) to live this philosophy in all areas of my life. Pride is such an ugly, evil thing. In the end, if it's hurt or compromised in some way, truly, who cares? We will have saved another person from feeling hurt, embarrassed, or stupid. We will have done them good.

Regarding the second part, "justify yourself," I am again reminded of the Scriptures -- this time of the lawyer who questioned Christ. When Christ said that the second greatest commandment was to "love your neighbor as yourself," the man immediately responded, "And who is my neighbor?" The Scriptures say that the man said this "desiring to justify himself." He wanted to know exactly what he had to do, so that he could do that -- and not a bit more. In answer, of course, Christ gave him the parable of the Good Samaritan -- the ultimate example of sacrifice and love.

Sisters, what a perfect lesson this is for Lent. How much have we justified ourselves regarding small exceptions -- eating "allowed" foods but eating too much, or eating "prohibited" foods while making some excuse or another, or being public instead of secret about our fasting, as our Lord admonished us? Always, we seek to justify ourselves, instead of acknowledging our sinfulness and begging for Christ's mercy.

Pray for me, a sinner, as I pray for each of you.


Doanh said...

I remembered the first time I tried to not defend or justify myself. I actually felt giddy. I no longer needed to preserve my ego or inflated image of myself. Anyway, I went back and read in the Psalms where it says that the Lord will vindicate those who are His and deliver them from all their troubles. So I thought to myself, "That is enough. Vindication from God is better than trying to defend myself." So then God created more opportunities in my life where I could choose not to defend myself. The more I did it, the easier it became. Praise God!

jocelyn said...

Doanh is right; there's a certain freedom in giving up the need to be correct. But oh, how addicting and satisfying it is to be in the "right." How much I want to prove to others and myself that I am beyond reproach!

I can think of many times when I've used the length of my to-do list, how little sleep I've gotten, or some other petty event as an excuse for my own irritability or bad behavior. But we always have a choice, and there's really no excuse.

Carla said...

The words of your teacher trainer are very wise. May I take them to heart and practice that attitude and action with all. That ought to keep me quite busy!

Anonymous said...

Doanh, I remember my old priest told me a long time ago that his life became really easy when he finally stopped being right about everything.

Thank you for your beautiful thoughts!

The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.