Remaining a Doer: Don’t Attribute it to Yourself But Still Do It

As is an important practical realiation that took me a lot of struggle personally to internalize, an over-extended sense of self agency i.e. pride is the root of many of our problems. We create our idenity out of recognizing things at which we excel, possess, or perceive as deserved. Over time this internalied pride tends to cause one to lose sight of our limited human nature compared to the omnipotence of the Creator to which we owe all that we are, possess,or can acquire.

All this, including our very existence comes gratutitously as a gift from God. Thus it’s pride and ingratitute to attribute anything wholly to yourself. And as I have realized recently, such an attitude often doesn’t lead to any success at all, but merely anger and disappointment when you don’t get your own way. For, in such a state, you perceive everything you desire as deserved, and not as a gratuitous gift.

But there’s also another problem opposing this vice and yet also dangerous to fall into. You can avoid the dangers of excessive pride by deprecating your own self agency almost entirely but this can lead to a kind of lazy apathy regarding any and all goods. Ok, one might (as I have felt myself recently) attempt to humbly (or so it seems to be) perceive all aspirations and desires as bad, as risking self-pride, and aiming to live an almost totally submissive and passive life. But this practically means living in an apathy to all good things, to not using the gifts you have received purely out of a fear of misusing them, or using/pursuing them but with the wrong intention.

By nature we are active agents, meant in some way to be and remain doers, so there is obviously something wrong with this sort of attempted lifestyle, regardless of the fact that no one also can live that way perfectly anyway. In some way we have to (as I have found the need to in my own life) find a way to be active agents that pursue good things and use the gifts we have been given. We have to somehow balance our own agency with the idea that all is a gift from God by using the gifts we have received and taking almost a sort of pride in them, not a self-referential pride but one that sees good things such as our own strengths, gifts, and abilities as ours to use for the  moment but not definitively ours.

As a practical example from my own life, for most of my time as a student at WCC I’ve taken great pride in my abilities at being efficient and meticulous, and being praised and appreciated by others for this skill. Taking pride too far would attribute this small skill set wholly to myself, making me elevate myself above others in my own mind because I perceive the abilities as mine, and in pride see myself as greater than others on its account. Envy would also arise out of this same pride when I see other greater skills at which others are more proficient than I and desire them, and anger would spill out if I perceive by my pride that I am not being recognized in the way I desire for my abilities. In such way by pride I place my identity within the skill and the skill totally within myself.

A total deprecation and apathy toward this ability would seem to be a solution to the problem of pride. But regarding the skill as worthless as a means to fighting one’s own pride is not a sufficient solution as it ignores the fact that the skill, whatever it may be, is a skill, an ability, a gift. It is good because it is good for its use, ultimately in some way for the benefit and love of others, and as such there must be some way to properly appreciate and approach it.

Here’s where I get partially stuck, insofar as I am still pondering and reflecting on how to practically figure out how to use God-given gifts without falling into either of pride or apathy. But perhaps the soulution is again seeing the gift as a gift for the moment in which it is possessed. It is yours to use for the moment, but not yours simply speaking. It could be lost, taken away, misused, superseded by others, etc. in the future. But in the here and now it is a gift. It is yours to use, but not yours to keep. Somehow growing into habituation of this mentality toward all of God’s gifts to us seems to be how we are meant to live in this world and especially discern God’s plans and call for us, a subject very much on my mind right now. We see the gifts , strengths, and opportunities which God has given to us or placed in our lives. But we are not to call them ours and in doing so to assume we know what they mean for us over the course of our entire life. Such a view comes from a pride that believes we possess them unconditionally. But rather we perceive the gifts in the moment, in the here and now as gifts for the very here and now.

All decisions, even one’s as big as discerning one’s vocation begin out of particular, concrete decisions in individual moments. In order to properly cooperate with God’s plan we need to not only allow Him into our lives by fighting pride but also need to actually act and actually pursue growth in the skills, opportunities and gifts which we have received already from Him. We need to be submissive to providence, but not be apathetic. We must be doers and not merely think that we’ll wait for God to force us to act. True cooperation with God’s will does not require completely shutting down our nature and willing of natural goods, but correcting it so as to conform to God’s will more perfectly. As St. Thomas Aquinas has said, “Gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit.” (Grace does not take away nature, but perfects it.) And so life is to be our will and our actions working together with God’s and leaving agency and action in both. We must submit to Divine Providence but must remain doers.