The title of this post is a popular saying among those who use the 12 Steps to bring their addictive behavior to heel. It’s a good line to keep in mind when you’re ready to lose patience with yourself and slip into self-loathing.
There’s a lot about myself that still has to change. I still get angry too easily. I still get self absorbed. I still give in to OCD thinking and actions, even when I know better. I still suck at saving money. Little problems still turn into big crises in my head.
But I don’t see a reason to beat myself over it, because I used to be much, much worse.
A temper today involves angry thoughts and self pity. As a young punk a temper meant punching dents into walls (I lacked the muscles to make a hole), flipping off people on the highway for cutting me off or, worse, getting touchy when I cut them off. It also meant unleashing a torrent of verbal vitriol.
Getting self absorbed back then meant spending what I wanted, eating what I wanted and making the decisions I wanted with no regard for anyone else. I still fall into that behavior, but I catch it more quickly than before and correct myself as much as possible. Doing service has been good for me because it gives me fewer opportunities to stray. Being a husband and father has helped, too.
Giving into OCD today means I may go on a cleaning spree at the moment I need to be doing other things. It means I may check and re-check my laptop bag to make sure the machine is inside, dooming myself to a longer, more traffic-laden commute in the process. It means I’ll occasionally run short on patience. But back then, it meant being blinded to everything around me by obsessive worrying about things that in hindsight were a lot of nothing. Which, in turn, led to the selfish behavior.
I bring this stuff up because everyone has a cross or six to carry on a daily basis, and it’s easy to give in to the worst kind of thinking and write yourself off as a failure.
In times like this, it’s also helpful to remember what Clarence the angel scribbled in the book he gave George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” — “No man is a failure who has friends.” I used to think I had no friends. Then I realized the problem was that I was ignoring my friends in favor of isolation.
We all have something to offer and to live for. We’re all screw-ups — nothing like the people God wants us to be.
But if we’re just a little better than we once were, that’s huge.
I’m going to keep working on being who God wants me to be. It’s an almost impossible task, because how do you ever really know what God wants you to be (until you’re dead and he tells you directly, anyway)?
He always leaves clues, though. So instead of feeling sorry for ourselves we can simply do the best with the clues we’ve got.