On Feeling Inept

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." —Oscar Wilde

"If you load responsibility on a man unworthy of it, he will always betray himself."

—August Heckscher

When I have time, I continue the process of home improvement. Earlier this week, I decided to undertake a task I usually detest: removing clutter. Actually, the better description is donating. I scoped the house for items not in use, clothes I no longer wear and trinkets without value. Inevitably, while looking through personal memories, I discovered my senior letters. Days before I graduated high school in 2000, I enjoyed breakfast with classmates while we simultaneously reading the thoughts of others. Most of the letters consisted of praise, prayers, thanks and support. Oddly enough, I discovered these notes in this time of reset, hesitation and uncertainty, causing me to question my significance and whether I’m making an impact. Some people may think pondering such questions is silly, but times of refocus are necessary for growth, clarity and vision.

For many people, this question is never the subject of reflection. If "The American Dream" is the framework for life, the quest is simple: success by all means. But in moments of solitude, even the mighty reflect on life and whether significance is evident in character. Consider the glitz of Hollywood: It’s simple to conclude success is defined by superior acting and lucrative income, but some think it’s the perfect mechanism for awareness. For example, George Clooney and Don Cheadle continue to highlight the Darfur horrors. And, although he’s only 52, Bill Gates recently stepped down from his position as chairman of Microsoft to turn his full attention to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By doing so, he’ll work to "reduce inequities and improve lives around the world." According to Forbes, Gates’ net worth is $58 billion. The possibilities seem limitless.To make matters better, Warren Buffet (CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and friend of Bill Gates) also plans to give a large portion of his shares to the same foundation. It undoubtedly shrinks my vision for civic involvement when I ponder such efforts. But it also reminds me this world needs goodness like never before.

Meditations on ineptness are visible in the Scriptures. The word "inept" doesn’t appear, but I think "unworthy" is a fitting substitution. Used in conjunction with "am not", the Hebrew word for this phrase is qaton and means "to be small" or "to be insignificant." Jacob and Job both utter this phrase when considering God’s provision and love. For me, this meditation on ineptness concerns two realities: civil service and Kingdom living. Although service to others seems simple, finding the time can quickly complicate the drive for success. Recently, though, I found the time to work with Habitat for Humanity. I felt a little out of place while taking cues from home construction experts; however, I worked hard and humbly posed questions when uncertainty vexed me. Watching someone receive the keys to their first home, and knowing you helped, is joyous to the soul. Kingdom living is more complex, a fuzzy journey in the United States. The focus is sharing one’s story with others and experiencing the internal metamorphosis. It’s the exchange between apostles (teachers) and disciples (students).

I’m not using direct "church terms" in my journey because that’s the problem: Theists who move through life with visible, spiritual frameworks can create barriers in language with others who hold no belief in the metaphysical. Conversations about the supernatural questions in life are necessary, but are they more effective after action? In other words, is authentic service to others a better conversation starter? Talk is cheap—action marks the spirit of others. Accordingly, the mark moves through the spirit, then to the mouth. The result is stirring questions: "Why did he (or she) do this?" "Why did he (or she) refuse my money?" It’s easy to jump in with the quick response, but I wonder if this should also be reconsidered. The wise are marked by more questions and fewer answers—and they reply to questions with more questions. Letting recipients of goodness wrestle with another person’s kind act compels thought and introspection, leading them to have an internal tussle about life and the story of reconciliation. The other thought to consider is knowledge: I believe it’s to one’s benefit to understand another person’s position and to begin discussions with common ground. In the Scriptures, St. Paul notes this idea when he writes to the church in Corinth, interacting with numerous types of people. He "becomes all things to all men" to outline the story of liberation with the widest audience possible.

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The tension concerning inept living is inside of everyone, but it’s marked by differing levels of intensity and time. Sometimes life moves too quickly and I wonder how much I’m missing. Are the missed moments significant or insignificant? I wish to involve myself in the lives of others more. I wish to show others why I live like I do. Incidentally, I think thoughts like this induce the spirit of ineptness and not doing enough for a life of significance. And ineptness precedes unworthiness. However, the amazing reality God reveals is grace, this unusual truth: actions will not merit justification. Ironically, justified lives become concerned with good actions, showing others unmerited goodness.

While thumbing through my senior letters, I noticed a quote my mother’s grandmother shared with her: "I have to live with myself, and so I want to be fit for myself to know. I want to be able, as days go by, always to look myself straight in the eye." I do not always like the reflection I see in the mirror, but I must stare myself down each day. I choose to recognize this truth: I am capable. I am willing.

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