LIVING AS APPRENTICES
I was describing a recent introspective moment to a friend. I told her that I had analyzed my defensive reaction to an e-mail and found another example of “vainglory” – the need to impress others to gain approval. As I chatted a bit about my thought process, my friend said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
I said, “I’m not. It’s just interesting how vainglory is still so prevalent in my life.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself!” she repeated.
This time I looked quizzically at her and said, “I’m not being hard on myself.” She then shared with me how important it is not to be too self-critical.
I agreed and changed the subject.
Later I began to think about the fine line between “being hard on yourself” and “shadow boxing.” Shadow boxing, seeing and naming our faults, is the way we learn about what’s going on under the surface in the shadows – the characteristics we would rather deny than acknowledge. In our struggle to rid ourselves of perfectionism (a soul-killer, for sure), we need to be sure that we don’t toss out the importance of regularly doing a “moral inventory” (as the Twelve Steps put it). We can grow only if we dare to look at and acknowledge who we really are. That looking becomes harmful only if we beat ourselves up for what we find, rather than asking the Holy Spirit to help us remove any shortcoming that will keep us from becoming who God wants us to be.
Richard Rohr comments that shadow boxing is “for the sake of truth and humility and generosity of spirit, not vengeance on the self or some kind of total victory over the self” (p. 32 in Breathing under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps). It is a weapon against a deeply-rooted enemy of transformation, “denial.”
In The Good and Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith says that vainglory is the “bane of the pious” because it needs virtue in order to exist” (p. 140-41). We can only take pride in a virtue when it is present. So, my shadow boxing with vainglory will continue – in the context of my awareness that I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights.