Godtalk: Do your best and leave the rest!


Many people find themselves over-extended and unable to give their best to all the various calls on their time.  They are often advised that the reason for this tension in their life is because of failure to set clear priorities and be faithful to them;  and that this sloppy indecisiveness is unfair to everyone on every side. If I am over-extended, it’s a fault in my life, which I have to correct.

But is it really that simple? Are we really meant to have this much control of over our lives? Don’t circumstance and need perennially trump that? Aren’t the generative years of our lives about much more than ensuring our own health and rest? Even if the purpose of our self-care is not selfish but intended for the better service of others, isn’t that service itself the final culprit? There are always needs and our resources are finite.  Isn’t that a formula for tension?

Circumstance conscripts us and, in the words of Jesus, puts a rope around us and takes where we would rather not go, namely, beyond our comfort zone, beyond always being adequately rested, and beyond always being in control of our own timetable and energies.

Admittedly it’s dangerous to over-extend oneself, except that it’s equally dangerous, perhaps more, to under-extend ourself so as to always have full control of our own energy and commitments and be always well rested and not over-taxed. We can burn-out, but we can also rust- away.

This, of course, can easily become a rationalisation for not setting proper priorities and for letting ourselves be unreflectively buffeted by circumstance. But the opposite can also be a rationalization used to over-protect our own comfort and rest. That’s the tension, and it’s meant to be a tension. Sometimes we overextend ourselves and sometime we under-extend ourselves.

But, paradoxically, over extension seems to give us more energy. Jesus, while cautioning proper self-care (Let us go away by ourselves for a while and rest. Mark, 6, 31) also tells us that we should pour ourselves out completely for others without worrying too much about the effect on ourselves  We should keep this in mind this in mind as we struggle on, feeling that no one was getting our best energies;   though they all got the best that we could do, given the circumstance.

Isn’t this a good image for the whole of our lives? We have finite energies, finite time, finite attention, and we are constantly swamped by circumstance, need, and pressure. There’s always something! 

So we are often caught in a major tension as regards our time, energy, and attention. In any given season within our lives, if we are honest, we might have to say: This wasn’t the best I might have done ideally, but it’s the best that I could do, given the circumstance!

Ultimately this is true for our whole lives. It’s never ideal, but it’s the best we can do, given the circumstance. And that should be more than enough when we stand before our Maker in judgment.

Peter Knott SJ