It is hard to measure up. In our lucid moments we admit this. Rarely is there a day when we could not echo these words by Anna Blaman:
I realized that it was simply impossible for a human being to be and remain good or pure. If, for instance, I wanted to be attentive in one direction, it could only be at the cost of neglecting another. If I gave my heart to one thing, it left another in the cold. No day and no hour go by without my being guilty of inadequacy. We never do enough, and what we do is never well enough done, except being inadequate, which we are good at because that is the way we are made. This is true of me and of everyone else. Every day and every hour brings with it its weight of moral guilt, as regards my work and my relations with others. I am constantly catching myself out in my human failings and, in spite of their being implied in my human imperfection, I am conscious of a sort of check. And this means that my human shortcomings are also my human guilt. It sounds strange that we should be guilty where we can do nothing about it. But even where there is no set purpose, no deliberate intention, we have a conviction of our own shortcomings, and of consensual guilt, a guilt which shows itself all too clearly in the consequences of what we have done or left undone.
Henri Nouwen occasionally expressed similar feelings: There is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, unrealized proposals. There is always something else that we should have remembered, done, or said. There are always people we did not speak to, write to, or visit. Thus, although we are very busy, we also have a lingering feeling of never really fulfilling our obligations. A gnawing sense of being unfulfilled underlies our filled lives.
When we are in touch with ourselves, we can relate to these words, these expressions of inadequacy. At the end of the day, we cannot measure up and cannot not disappoint others and ourselves. Generally the fault is not that we are not sincere or that we do not put out the effort. The fault is that we are human. We have limited resources, get tired, experience feelings we cannot control, have only 24 hours in our day, have too many demands on us, have wounds and weaknesses that shackle us, and thus know exactly what St. Paul meant when he said: Woe, to me, wretch that I am, the good I want to do, I cannot do; and the evil I want to avoid, I end up doing!
That may sound negative, neurotic, and stoic, and it can be those things, but, appropriated properly, it can generate hope and renewed energy in our lives. To be human is to be inadequate, by definition. Only God is adequate and the rest of us can safely say to ourselves: Fear not you are inadequate! But a God who made us this way surely gives us the slack, the forgiveness, and the grace we need to work with this. Personally, I take consolation from the gospel parable of the ten bridesmaids who, while waiting for the bridegroom, all fell asleep, wise and the foolish alike. Even the wise were too human and too weak to stay awake the whole time. Nobody does it perfectly and accepting this, our congenital inadequacy, can bring us to a healthy humility and perhaps even to a healthy humor about it.
But it should bring us to something more: prayer, especially the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is, among other things, a vigil of waiting. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist he told the disciples to keep celebrating it until he returned again. A biblical scholar, Gerhard Lofink, puts it this way: The early apostolic communities cannot be understood outside of the matrix of intense expectation. They were communities imminently awaiting Christ’s return. They gathered in Eucharist, among other reasons, to foster and sustain this awareness, namely, that they were living in wait, waiting for Christ to return.
I try to celebrate Eucharist every day. I do this because I am a priest and part of the covenant a priest makes with the church at his ordination is to pray the priestly prayer of Jesus, the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, regularly for the world. But I do it too, more personally, for another reason: The older I get, the less confident, in some ways, I am becoming. I don’t always know whether I’m following Christ properly or even know exactly what it means to follow Christ, and so I stake my faith on an invitation that Jesus left us on the night before he died: To break bread and drink wine in his memory and to trust that this, if all else is uncertain, is what we should be doing while we wait for him to return.