“Ask a Priest: I Try so Hard … Why Can’t I Be Perfect?”

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Q: I am praying more regularly and watching daily Mass. I’m reading the Bible. I still have difficulty with laziness, envy, insecurity, oversensitivity, shame, being overly emotional, exaggerating, lying so people can take my side in a conflict, lying to sound more credible, attention-seeking behavior, chafing at correction, criticism, being challenged or called out on my lies, nonsense, and excuses. I still complain, obsess, experience high levels of anxiety, harbor resentment and an unforgiving heart, get upset when others disagree with me, and I can be very vain and judgmental. I’m so annoyed with myself. Why can’t I be perfect despite all my efforts? — I.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Let’s start with your question, “Why can’t I be perfect despite all my efforts?”

That might be part of the problem: It’s easy to fall into the mistake of thinking we can reach perfection on our own efforts.

In fact, none of us can bring ourselves to perfection. Any improvements are a grace of God.

What is noticeable about your e-mail is an omission: There is not a word about God the Father or Jesus or the Holy Spirit.

This is odd because religion is foremost about God. The No. 1 goal of the spiritual life is the glory of God.

Our own sanctification is part of that — a byproduct, if you will, of our doing things for God’s glory. But God comes first.

But let’s say you have had a particularly frustrating day and feel closed in on yourself. You nevertheless recognize your various faults. Notably, you aren’t blaming others for your problems. And that in itself is a sign of progress.

In fact, St. John of the Cross, the great Doctor of the Church on prayer and spiritual growth, pointed out that often as we are growing spiritually it feels as if we staying the same, or even getting worse.

It could be that you are in a season of growth and need some guidance on how to cooperate with the graces God is sending you. To that end, you might want to look at my colleague Father John Bartunek’s book that answers questions on spiritual challenges, Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions.

For now, try moving the spotlight from yourself and more toward God and what he wants from you.

He has given you the gifts of life, intelligence, health, faith, etc. You are his beloved daughter. And as a beloved daughter you can feel confident in his help.

It might help to go to prayer or, if you can, go to the Blessed Sacrament and ask Jesus what he wants of you. This will help lift your vision a bit more heavenward.

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