by Becky Brooks
My parents left the Catholic church shortly after I was born and I grew up unchurched. My early religious education, as a result, was from pop culture. Most notably, Star Wars. (Or, more specifically, Empire Strikes Back). Picture itâ€¦our hero, Luke, has been stranded on a strange planet. With the help of his spiritual advisor, Yoda, he begins to learn his practice. During a moment of frustration while attempting a project that is so large and overwhelming it seems impossible, Luke is ready to give up. As Yoda urges him to keep up with his work, Luke saysâ€”unconvincinglyâ€”that he’ll try. Yoda responds: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
The thing about wisdom is that it can take a while to settle in. Though this scene made a big impression on me as a kid, I’ve only recently begun to understand it. Luke wants to give himself an out. He wants to be able to say, when his efforts fail, that he wasn’t dumb enough to think that he was capable of doing such an enormous task to begin with. He wants to preserve his dignity (and identity) by being right. But Yoda sees through that.
We do this a lot. We use “trying” to protect us from failure. Giving something a “try” helps cushion the fall and lighten the blow. But it also prohibits us from committing to an endeavor. Imaging wearing water wings all the time. You may stay safe, but you never learn to swim. What might it look like to resist the impulse to protect ourselves from failure? What might it look like, instead, to choose commitment. Or, just as valid, to understand our limitations and choose inaction? I would argue that the act of commitment itself is not only a spiritual practice in learning to be one’s best, whole, self, but also a tool for ultimate success.
I’ve never been a great goal maker. I am very good at dealing with the present moment and focusing on what is right in front of me. It’s difficult for me to create a goal for the future and keep it in my sights long enough to accomplish it, especially in regard to personal change and growth. But when I do manage to meet a significant goal, it’s because I have committed to it. And when I commit to something and I fail, it hurts. There’s no pretending it doesn’t. Failure hurts. But so does setting myself up for failure, and so doesâ€”in a wayâ€”lucking into success.
We have the opportunity in our congregation to commit. To projects, to tasks, to each other, to acting faithfully with one another, we can choose to commit. I hope we can remember the power of that choice, of action (or, even inaction). Committing together to be our best, whole selves, is the only way we can make that happen.