Show Your Work
The three R’s: Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. Personally, I’ve never been particularly fond of that third ‘R.’ It’s not that arithmetic was impossible, it just never came naturally to me. I remember stressing out over numeric equations as young as first grade. I was so afraid of being wrong, that I spent hours trying to write my numbers perfectly. I figured, even if I get the answer wrong, at least my wrongness will look right.
Part of the problem was a teacher I had at the time. She was quite the hard-ass on us six-and-seven-year-olds, despite the fact that she wasn’t a nun with a ruler. Her firmness came from an expectation for perfection, one I was eager to meet at such a young age. Despite her toughness, my rough patches with math continued throughout middle and high school.
I’d often take the easy way out. I’d copy answers out of the book, losing points because I failed to show my work. I was occasionally tempted to cheat by a careless classmate’s uncovered test. The fear of failure was on the rise in my eighth grade year in Algebra 1. The mere notion of taking home less than a 90 dropped my stomach.
Instead of showing my work, I showed my will. I willed myself to appear shameless by avoiding failure. I willed the results of each equation without putting in the work. I willed to please my parents, avoid peer criticism, and show my teacher that they were doing a good job. I willed myself to belong in a class I had every right to be in.
The problem, fears aside, was my will. I was determined to will all of these things into being, without putting in any of the work. I didn’t have the wherewithal at 13 to say, “Hey, God. I’m really afraid of failing and looking like an idiot in front of everyone.” Instead, I put my will over His.
I didn’t show my work, and I suffered for it. Since adolescence, I’ve learned the importance of showing your work. This shouldn’t be done only in math, of course. Showing your work is a lifelong thing. If you don’t put in the face time, effort, and energy, you won’t see any results. The answers to life aren’t in the back of your textbook. All though, I’ve got an equation that teaches you how to direct your will.
W + w = S
This simple equation was introduced by St. Maximilian Kolbe. W represents God’s will. w represents your will. The sum of these two wills is Sanctity. Something I also realized is that the plus sign represents Mary and the Holy Spirit, but more on that later.
In offering your will to God through Mary, you’re ensuring an easier path to sainthood (a.k.a. the best-version-of-yourself). There’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection; it’s why and how you aim for it that matters. That’s where this equation comes in. If you sublimate your imperfect will–as demonstrated in the childish, ignorant, willfulness anecdote above–to God through Mary, the human element of incarnated grace and divinity, your will comes closer to perfection. Approaching God with an imperfect will simply slows the development of sanctity.
In listening to The Secret, I heard something rather provocative. With this equation still weighing on my mind, I thought about how people strive for perfect in such a wrong way. Merely thinking, “I am perfect,” won’t get you very far: 1) It’s a limited thought that can very easily be derailed and; 2) It’s inaccurate to the point of error. None of us are perfect, though we were made to become perfect. We were perfectly made by God, a perfect being, yet our earthly nature corrupts our perfection.
You could say we’re perfectly imperfect. That doesn’t mean to use your limitations as justification for not aiming for sanctity. Nor does it mean we taint the objective definition of perfect with human notions of perfection. To clarify, sanctity and perfection are not the same thing. Sanctity is the best version of yourself made manifest on this earth, while you are living. True perfection is infinite, like our souls.
Be a saint.
I’m aiming at sanctity now. I’ve never believed it was something I was capable of. I’ve seen these motivational post-its around the house from my mom proclaiming, “Be a saint!” I never really understood what the meant until now. I used to scoff at these notes in disbelief for a time.
Then, I was proud of my mom for aiming so high. Now, I see that one of the best ways to approach perfection is by making your goals bigger than yourself. In aiming to fervently and wholly serve a a higher power, your best self (i.e. sanctity-oriented self) serves more than you.
Instead of putting “me” first, putting God first results in perfection as unimagined byproduct of a better goal. Combining your will with God’s turns it into something purer, stripping away the imperfect exterior and revealing the perfect soul within each of us. This synergy, synchronicity, creative cooperation isn’t just for you or just about you. Aiming for sanctity isn’t about your perfection, but the seeds of harmony your sublimated will brings to the world.
God’s will is literally in the fabric of all. If you open up and allow God’s will to flow through you, the perfection you seek will come. Just not on your terms or time.
Fit as a Fiddle
If you were to be an instrument of God’s will and mercy, what would it be? Literally speaking, I’m called to storytelling and counseling. If I were an actual instrument, I’d be a cello. I love how large it is, as well as its musical range: from centuries old orchestral pieces to modern renditions of pop to whole new creations in folk and Americana. It’s a sorrowful instrument with a sound most similar to the human voice. Maybe that’s why I find myself so drawn to it.
The fiddle is often categorized as the devil’s tool, but I find that quite untrue. If anything, the violin produces a sound which makes you feel your heart, connecting you with its beats and jumps. It can make your feet move fast and your heart move faster. The fiddle brings joy and power and raw vitality, where the cello connects with soul and sorrow and eternity.
Mary’s an instrument, too, you see, much like the Holy Spirit. That’s why their union is so spectacular. The bridge between God’s will and my will is that plus sign I mentioned before. W + w = S is connected by the union of God’s other instruments. This ‘+’ resembles a cross, but plays its own part in this spiritual arithmetic.
Mary’s the Mediatrix of our will and God’s will, the earthly and divine. Just as the plus sign mediates the wills in the equation, so Mary complement our imperfect lackings. She and the Holy Spirit embody divine instrumentation, allowing our goal of sanctity to be achieved in a holier way.