On Not Being Good Enough

Not too long ago, a friend made a remark to me, the implication of which I knew to be judgmental. Unlike me, my friend is very active in volunteering. He admires others who are also active and does not admire those who are not. That’s his standard. It’s a standard he applies to himself, but it’s also one he applies, consciously or not, to others.

Okay. I know people who are active volunteers and who have all the lovingkindness of a scorpion. They are fond of quoting St. James. But I remember the Lord’s comment on this sort of thing: Lord, didn’t we do all these good things in your name, feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit the prisoner, and everything? And he replied, “Depart from me. I know you not.”

Now why is that? I know the Lord loves these people, but I don’t think he loves them because they volunteer all the time. Doing good feels good, and I think that’s their real reward. And if you do good things, you don’t have to know him. And by extension, you don’t have to love him—or anyone else, for that matter.

I used to have an aunt who was a “clean freak.” She had to have everything always immaculately clean. She made a remark once about heaven, and I heard my uncle mutter, “Heaven’ll have to be very dirty to suit Jean. Otherwise, it’ll be hell for her.” There’s a connection between my aunt and my friend. Heaven for my aunt will be dirty; for my friend, it will be full of poor people, sick, hungry, or homeless.

You have to accept people like my friend as they are, even though they don’t accept you. They demand that you be like them; if you’re not, you’re unacceptable. My mother knew the Lord better than many. Once, when she’d fallen on hard times, she exclaimed, “Lord, deliver me from good people!” And I get that. I loved my Aunt Jean, but I didn’t like to go to her house; I was always afraid I’d get something dirty. I still love my friend (and admire him), but I don’t spend much time with him anymore. I always seem to come away feeling bad.  

Dena Hunt
Dena Hunt's first novel, Treason (Sophia Institute Press), won the IPPY Gold Medal. Her second, The Lion’s Heart (Full Quiver Press), won the Catholic Arts and Letters Achievement award. Jazz & Other Stories, her third book, has just been published by Wiseblood Books. She is the book review editor of St. Austin Review.

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  1. I always enjoy reading your observations, Dena. “Accept…even though they don’t accept you.” “…don’t spend much time with him anymore…come away feeling bad.” A wise admonition and a wise action.

    St James is a goldmine! Most don’t remember the examples of works of faith given by St. James. He speaks of the ridiculousness of wishing the hungry to have a nice day, but that was more an example of the Calvinistic error of a selfish salvation occurring in a vacuum, not a work of faith. James refers to Abraham’s willing sacrifice of Isaac and Rahab protecting the Israelite spies from the king as works of faith.

    We may never be called to sacrifice a son, but we may have to sacrifice friendships, jobs, our reputation, etc. We may never have to deceive a king, but we are called to frustrate the schemes of the wicked. Those works of faith are much more difficult than leaving cans of food and old clothes at the back of church.

    Your friend is doing important work to serve the needy. However, too little effort is made to reduce that need through teaching, preaching, and educating. The Church has become a bureaucracy of social workers instead of a producer of miracle workers. All the best to you.