ColumnsDisciple’s Corner

The role of ‘falling back’ in the life of a Christian

Anyone who is familiar with AA probably knows that many times an alcoholic isn’t ready to start working on recovery until they have “bottomed out.” In some cases, it takes a series of “bottoming out” experiences before an individual is ready to admit that they have a problem which they cannot fix by themselves.

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Edward Sri says something similar is true about our spiritual lives. “No matter how hard we try,” Sri writes in “Into His Likeness,” “we come face-to-face with our inability to live the Christian life as well as we’d like to.”

We want to change, we want to do better, we do what we can, Sri says, “but … no matter how much we set our minds to it and try with all our might, … we will still run up against our own limitations and weaknesses.” He calls this “falling back,” and it is in these “falling back” experiences that we eventually realize that we are completely dependent on God who is waiting in these moments to help us.

I had one of those “falling back” experiences lately, waiting to check out at a home improvement center.

This is a store which readily advertises that they will open another checkout lane if two or more people are waiting in line, but on this particular evening, only four checkouts were open and each one had four or five customers waiting in line.

I confronted the manager in what you would politely call a brusque manner (the dictionary defines it as ungracious harshness), thereby embarrassing myself and offending the manager.

Afterward, I wanted to say to myself, well, that’s what it’s come to in society today — ungracious harshness all around. But I knew this was no excuse, and it actually shocked me that I was willing to let such a small thing — I wasn’t even in a hurry — upset me enough to become angry and rude.

It reminded me that getting angry and being ungracious when I feel unappreciated or slighted is one of my lifelong struggles, not always well disguised.

Faced with patterns and habits of sin in our lives, Sri says, we can respond with despair, impatience (often rooted in pride), or humility, what he calls the way of the disciple.

“Too often,” Sri writes, “we want to … present ourselves to God in some ideal way — perfect, holy, virtuous, devout. But God wants to meet us right now as we real­ly are.”

Sri quotes from a passage by St. Therese of Lisieux in “The Little Way”: “You wish to scale a mountain and the good God wants to make you descend; he is waiting for you low down in the fertile valley of humility.”

Or as it happens sometimes, in the checkout lane at Menards.

What do you think?

 Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how aware you are of meeting God “in the fertile valley of humility.” How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • Can you identify those habits or patterns of sin which are “bottoming out” or “falling back” matters in your own life? What is your most common response: despair, impatience or humility? Has your response changed over time? What would you have to do to embrace more humility and less despair? How can we help our students, children and grandchildren embrace humility over despair and impatience?
  • I think the “fertile valley of humility” for me is …

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 Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Faith Formation Division and The Witness. It is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.