By: Staci Stallings
Trying to Do it On Your Own
As a Catholic, I grew up studying the saints. Every year we would pick a saint and write a report. Even before that, my grandmother had a book of saints that she would read to me before we took naps in the afternoon. My favorite saint was St. Stephen. For those who don’t know the story of St. Stephen, he was the very first martyr. He was condemned to death and stoned for his belief in Jesus Christ. In fact, it was Saul, Stephen’s cousin and the man who later became St. Paul, who officiated at the stoning.
In the book, I was always fascinated even as a young child, by the picture of St. Stephen. It featured him, lying down but raising up on one elbow, holding a bloody rock above his head as a dove representing the Holy Spirit hovered over him. I remember not being able to comprehend how anyone could let themselves be stoned because they loved God. How could anyone have that much strength, believe that deeply, and hold onto that belief through that kind of horror? What a strong man Stephen must have been!
That’s the way I pictured all of the saints I read about. St. Sebastian who was martyred not once but twice—what strength, what courage. St. Lucy who had her eyes pulled out rather than renounce Jesus. St. Barbara imprisoned in her father’s own tower.
These weren’t just people—they were super human people. They were above and beyond normal human beings. They possessed strength and dedication that normal people just didn’t have. I knew I certainly didn’t. I wanted to. I wanted to be like them, and I thought I understood the point of all of those stories—be strong, be brave, give your all for God, that’s what He expects and nothing less.
It was a daunting challenge for a young child, and it only grew more daunting the older I got. To say I fell into the trap of trying to be perfect would be like saying the ocean has a little water. In school, a 96 was failure. In life having a friend make a wrong choice was failure. I had to help. I had to know. I had to be—everything to everyone, and I had to be right all the time. God expected no less.
After all, that’s what I perceived the saints to be. Perfect. That’s why God loved them and held them up as examples of what He expected all of us to be.
As I look around our world now, I see many if not most people falling into this very trap, and these people are not evil people but the ones who are really trying to get it right. They are very much like the young official who came to Jesus and asked, “What else must I do? I’ve kept the commandments since I was very young…”
They’ve done everything they know to do. Yes, they are tired. Yes, they sometimes get resentful of all that God expects, but they don’t want to let Him down (although they always fear they probably are). The problem is not that these are bad people. The problem is that they have bought into the lie that they have to somehow do it on their own.
The truth is: They can’t. The greater truth is: God never expected them to.
Coming Next Tuesday: Source & Resource—the Key to Your Worth