Did you ever play on monkey bars as a kid?
If not, I’m sorry you were deprived as a child. Odds are you probably did, or at least tried to play on them. If you were anything like me, however, you were pretty bad at them at first. I remember going to the playground in kindergarten and seeing the bigger kids jumping on the monkey bars and swinging around like it was nothing. My conclusion? Wow, that looks fun and it must be easy because so many kids are playing on them. It only took 1 monkey bar and a giant fall (2 feet is huge when you’re only 4’ tall) to show me and the other kids watching that they were definitely not as easy as I thought.
Embarrassed, I ran back to the line of kids playing 4-square, a game I could at least compete in. The next week I built up some courage and tried again. Same result. This time I was more frustrated than embarrassed, so I ran back to the ladder and tried again. I thought that if I jumped into it that it would be easier. Nope. Definitely not true. After the third fall, my frustration turned into straight-up anger. Why couldn’t I do it when so many other kids could?
I was determined and motivated (more out of competition than genuine self-improvement) so every day at recess I would run over to the monkey bars and fall, time and time again. Eventually, I developed some grip strength and was able to hold on for a few seconds before falling. This was the spark of hope I needed. I kept trying and kept holding on for as long as I was able to. I literally remember the day when I made my first full “swing”. I had made half-attempts and quick grips before but this time was different. I grabbed the first bar and reached for the second, preparing myself to fall. I let go and a small miracle happened: I didn’t fall. Instead, I was swinging through the air towards the third bar. I reached for it with even more confidence than the first and proceeded to tumble to the ground and land straight on my back.
Bruised? A bit. Embarrassed? Definitely. Totally stoked? Oh yeah. I had done it and now I knew how fun it felt to swing like the other kids.
While this heroic journey and memory of myself in kindergarten doesn’t sound like much anymore, it got me thinking. Why don’t people approach life and situations like this anymore? So often, when facing a difficulty or something that pushes our comfort zones, we encounter an initial failure and assume it wasn’t meant to be.
I think for most of us we start off life with so much joyful optimism but we eventually slip into this pessimism where we almost expect certain tasks, projects, or ideas to fail before they even start. That’s an attitude called defeatism. And that is not the mindset of the Christian.
In fact, I would argue that that is the enemy whispering in your ear so that you give up something that would end up glorifying God and saving souls. Think of all of the Church projects, small groups, or events that have been abandoned after 1 misstep. How often do we go into a new project within the Church and already assume it isn’t going to work out? This attitude is hamstringing the beauty of the mustard seed!
Jesus didn’t say that the Church will be built up from huge events where we gather hundreds of people. No. He compared the kingdom to the mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds (Mt 13:31-35).
So how do we go about regaining our monkey-bar-optimism and determination to defeat the demon of defeatism? I’ll offer 3 suggestions: self-reflection, prayer, and patience.
No one is good at everything. And no one has all of the gifts that are required to fill a church, small group, or project. So if you struggle with defeatism, try taking some time and genuinely, and humbly, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you your strengths and weaknesses. Write them down if you want. Talk to people who are close to you and ask them what they think your strengths and weaknesses are. Do this all for the sake of growing in virtue through self-knowledge. In order to serve Christ and his Church more effectively.
If you struggle with defeatism then you must beg for the grace to overcome it. Spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Practically speaking, every time you notice a temptation or thought of defeatism come up, renounce and rebuke it in the name of Jesus and move on. Don’t dwell on it and don’t overthink it. Simply move on and strive to do the will of God at every moment of the day.
This can be the hardest thing to do. It is for me at least. The idea of the mustard seed helps me out though. Seeds take time to even break soil, let alone be big enough for birds to nest in them. Whenever you are attempting something for the first time, or within the first week, month, or even year, constantly seek the grace of patience. Stay open to the Holy Spirit and, as long as he is prompting you and prudence allows it, persevere through the ups and downs until the mustard seed is big enough for many birds to find rest in it.