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Building virtue? Start with what you’ve got

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Simcha Fisher - published on 07/18/16

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Alternate title: Build a Little Chicken Puppet In Your Soul!

Let me back up. The other day, I had the following conversation with my husband:

Him: “Oh, I remember that guy! He gave you a really hard time a few years ago.”

Me: “Really? I don’t remember him at all. I have such a hard time holding grudges, because I have such a rotten memory.”

Him: “I know. That’s great about you.”

Me: “Ehh, not really. It’s not exactly a virtue. I just have a bad memory.”

Him: “No, it is a virtue. Sometimes virtues come easily, but they’re still virtues.  And besides, you deliberately cultivate it.”

Me: “I guess so! I guess I could make up for my bad memory by keeping little notebooks about of stuff that made me mad, but instead I just . . . embrace the vagueness.”

Him: “I like you.”

Me: “I like you, too.”

Him: “Let’s watch Kolchak.”

Me: “Okay, but I’ll need a drink.”

Boy, his hat didn’t go on the hook, and he didn’t even care! Pshh, that Kolchak.

Seersucker notwithstanding, it was really helpful to hear this reminder that not all virtues are tortured out of us. I tend to think that virtues only “count” if they’re awfully hard, or if they run contrary to what we naturally want to do, or if they are the fruit of some soul-quaking struggle. Not so!

It is true that God sometimes asks really hard things of us. And it is true that everyone has some natural tendency that needs squashing or reversing. Original sin, you guys. It’s a thing. Everybody has something that needs some work, and God will use adversity and discomfort and trials to bring virtue out of us.

But it’s also true that grace builds on nature. Hey, there’s even a phrase for it! (I should write that down in a little notebook, so I don’t forget.) God really wants us to work with what we’ve got, even if it’s only a sieve-like memory. That’s  . . . why He gave it to us in the first place.

It makes sense. If I gave my daughter a sewing kit, I’d be thrilled to see her happily using it to make things. I wouldn’t think, “Oh, but she likes sewing, and she has a knack for it, so I’m not all that impressed by this felt chicken puppet she whipped up.” No, I’d be delighted, and I’d encourage her to try her hand at something more complex.

Same with the behaviors that come naturally to us. We don’t need to  preen ourselves on virtues that come easily; but we should recognize what those virtues are, so we can deliberately work on taking them to the next level. If we only work on the things that make us sweat and bug out, then we’ll be neglecting the gifts that God deliberately chose for us, and that’s just rude.

Bonus virtue! I asked my husband if I could share that conversation we had, and he didn’t remember it at all — and he doesn’t have a bad memory, either. He does remember that one jerky guy, though; he just doesn’t recall the part where he edified, encouraged, and illuminated me. One flesh: where two crazy people get together and, between them, come up with about 80%-worth of a virtuous, well-adjusted human being. In marriage, you not only get to build on your own virtues, but you can build on your spouse’s, too.

Kolchak, however, is on his own.

Image courtesy of Damien Fisher

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