We may, indeed be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I have been reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity during my devotional time lately. As he discusses the virtue of chastity, he points out how it will never be perfect but that we must keep up with my efforts, continuing after mistakes. Ultimately, the process of learning develops the habits, particularly “of the soul which are more important still.” In progressing our virtues, or skills, we must reach for perfection. Posing ourselves for this can put us in vulnerable positions. Metaphorically, our arms are extended beyond our bodies, altering our balance. Our movement toward our goal changes that, and we may not always be able to adjust accordingly, thus falling. Yet our efforts develop our strength and flexibility as we depend on God, knowing the only way to touch perfection is to touch Him.
So we must continue stretching and reaching, developing our balance. We may waver a little bit sometimes, but the unceasing movement toward God leads to a habit. As Lewis establishes, we get closer to God through steadfast effort to touch Him. When a situation or decision causes us to potentially teeter totter, we are forced to use our acquired strength to get our balance centered (on God) again. We must maintain a fluid motion to avoid a major wreck or stagnation. Imagine a child learning how to ride a bike. With the training wheels on, an option still exists to not pedal or learn balance to master bike riding. Yet that child will never get closer to his ultimate goal. The child who does move up to the two-wheeler has to maintain fluid motion and balance to continue on his path to the ultimate destination and perfection. Even as an adult rider, he hits a bump, loses his balance, even falls to the ground. The habit he has developed makes it easier to catch himself, lessening the damage. It also gives him greater courage to get up and keep pushing forward because he is strong and close to the one who lights his way. Another rider who has not made a regular habit of bike riding would be more likely to not quickly adjust his balance if sudden need arose. He might also be less hesitant to ride as far or as often. Yet he can still start, or restart, the activity to develop that flexibility and skill, to keep standing on his toes to reach his destination: perfection. We can develop our skills and virtues. We can touch God.
The bike riding illustration applies to intangible virtues like chastity as Lewis described and to skills like engineering. Not all efforts find success initially, yet they all help us learn. Even in the ultimate bike ride, the journey leads to the destination. The attempts put us in vulnerable positions as we open ourselves and we never reach true perfection, but why not keep getting closer? The habits we develop keep us on the good path and invite others to join. The point is to not settle for anything less than fulfilling the potential God has given you as you extend yourself to Him. Keep standing on your tiptoes to reach forward; the habit leads you closer and closer.