I love American and Celtic folk music. In another season of life, I taught myself to play an Irish whistle and a lap dulcimer. I never mastered either one, but I enjoyed making “music”. Because I played for an audience of one, good was good enough. Until it wasn’t and I laid the instruments aside. I wonder how many things we pick up and lay down because somewhere along the way we begin listening to ourselves. How many opportunities for growth and self-expression have you and I walked away from because our most severe critic (you-know-who) convinces us we’ll never be good enough? I’ve lost count. “The best is the enemy of the good.” The French writer Voltaire is credited with those words. Others have graced us with similar phrases meant to encourage, including this one from St. Jerome. “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” I imagine most of us have left a pile of good enough efforts, accomplishments, endeavors heaped in a corner while we’ve chased after the better and best. I recently came upon words from Dutch Catholic priest, writer and theologian Henri Nouwen that have made me wonder: how much damage has my critical self caused to my authentic self? Brush aside those earlier quotes and sit with this for awhile, will you?
The real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing — that demands real effort. ~ Nouwen
Of course, Nouwen is talking about our inherent goodness. Not about the things we endeavor to do, but about who we are. But, in a world where our self-worth, and likewise the value we see in others, depends very much on what we accomplish or achieve in life, I wonder how many of us can hear “the voice of blessing.” The truth is, none of us become better versions of ourselves through self-condemnation. And our “goodness” does not depend on what we do best — or at least better than the average guy. Maybe the good things about our selves whispered in silence can help us recognize the better and best in us when they show up. We think of prayer as talking to God, and much of the time, that’s exactly what it is. But what if the real work of prayer, as Nouwen says, is in listening to God. Perhaps true contentment, with ourselves and with others, is found in becoming silent. And in letting good be good enough. What might the voice of blessing tell you?