GOING BEYOND IS AS BAD AS FALLING SHORT. This Chinese proverb reflects the virtue of moderation, a virtue that doesn’t always find its way into Christian practice. Our fear of “falling short,” St. Paul’s words, pushes us out there to zealously “fight the good fight” and “run the straight race” (John Monsell hymn).
In one of her letters, Jeanne de Chantal, an inspiring and practical spiritual writer from the 17th century, counseled a person who was overcome with the physical exertion and effort of religious zeal. She told him, “All God wants is our heart.” God wants “a calm, peaceful uselessness, a resting near Him” with “a few words of love, or of faithful, simple surrender, spoken softly, effortlessly” (Dupré and Wiseman 374-375).
Her description brings to mind the Lord’s “lilies of the field” who don’t toil and the “birds of the air” who don’t “gather into barns” (Matt. 6:26, 28). We also recall the deliberate sprouting of seeds because of what is surely in them (Mark 4:26-27) and the inevitable rising of bread because of what it contains (Luke 13:21). Such a moderation of effort places our faith right where the Lord wants it, centered in him.