170. Batman Syndrome

I have Batman Syndrome.

I wish this meant I were as cool, skilled or accomplished as Batman. It does not. It most certainly does not. What it means is that Batman and I have something in common: we obsess over our mistakes.

If you or someone you love suffers from Batman Syndrome... I feel your pain.

If you or someone you love suffers from Batman Syndrome… I feel your pain.

I like fictional characters who overlook their victories and overemphasize their failures. There’s something compelling about characters who are heroic without realizing it. Take the Doctor from Doctor Who, who has saved every planet in the universe roughly twenty-seven times. In all his travels through space and time, he never leaves behind his insecurity, self-loathing or guilt. Consider Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, who atones for a few petty crimes by spending years serving the poor and helpless. They bless him as a saint. He despises himself as a criminal.

Then we have Batman, the eponymous sufferer of Batman Syndrome, who is so blinded by guilt that he fails to recognize one all-important fact: he is freaking Batman. No matter how many thousands of people he rescues, he remains obsessed with the two he failed to save.

I’m not a savior like the Doctor or a saint like Jean Valjean. I’m certainly not a superhero like Batman. Even so, I occasionally do things right. I also do things wrong. In my mind, the wrong things eclipse the right ones. A mistake cancels out all successes.

This isn’t always such a bad thing. I feel driven by my mistakes to try harder, to be better, to get it right. In the short term, it helps.

In the long term, however, Batman Syndrome wears away my confidence. It also makes me anxious. Dash it all, does it ever make me anxious. Doing anything is hard for someone desperately afraid of making mistakes. Perfection is a lousy minimum standard.

Batman Syndrome haunts me with one dreadful question.

You’ll never get it right, so why even try?

I write a lot about grace and stuff. In the end, I suppose it’s because I’m amazed (and sometimes incredulous) that God loves me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. More to the point, I make a lot of mistakes. It’s easy for me to accept God’s forgiveness for a sin committed ten years ago. What’s hard for me to accept is forgiveness for a sin committed ten minutes ago.

It can also be hard for me to acknowledge my victories. I want to be humble, but there’s a difference between true humility and false modesty. I’m often reminded of my weaknesses. I think I must also allow myself to be reminded of the strengths God has given me. I’ve a long way to go, but I mustn’t overlook how far I’ve come.

I’m not Batman, and I think I’m finally beginning to accept that I don’t have to be.

146. Grace Makes Sense

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time. The reason I’ve put it off is that it’s an important post, and those are always the hardest to write.

Occasionally, when I think I’ve discovered some amazing spiritual insight, I glance at one of C.S. Lewis’s books and realize he discovered it first. Since it’s hard to write blog posts about important things like grace, I’ll let Lewis handle the introduction.

Take it away, Jack!

Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.”

I know God has saved me by grace, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying to be good enough.

Then, some time ago, I began to understand.

I’m not good enough.

I’ve never been.

I shan’t ever be.

That’s okay.

God doesn’t expect me to be good enough. Nowhere in the Bible does God say, “Unless you meet my standards, I won’t love you.” I don’t deserve God’s love. Grace is a gift, and it’s finally making sense. I don’t have to earn anything.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I can stop trying to be good.

To quote C.S. Lewis again, living by grace doesn’t mean merely trying to do good things,

But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.

God isn’t commanding me to be good enough. He’s asking me to give him my best. When—not if but when—my best isn’t good enough, his grace covers the rest.

Christmas began as a celebration of Christ’s birth. Christ was born to die. He died and rose again to give us life, not to burden us with impossible demands. At its heart, Christmas is a celebration of grace.

We’re not good enough, but we don’t have to be. God’s grace is good enough, and that’s what matters. We must give him our best. The rest is up to him.

Happy Christmas, dear reader!

31. The Art of Blundering Hopefully

I like gloomy characters. Well, I like gloomy fictional characters; gloomy characters aren’t nearly as likable in real life as they are in fiction. There’s something strangely endearing about pessimists and their pessimism, so long as I don’t have to deal with them personally.

Puddleglum from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair is one of my favorites. “Good morning Guests,” he says to the protagonists after they spend the night in his home. “Though when I say good I don’t mean it won’t probably turn to rain or it might be snow, or fog, or thunder. You didn’t get any sleep, I daresay.”

Then there’s Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and Eeyore from the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne, and Bernard Walton from the Adventures in Odyssey radio series, and a dozen more delightfully depressing characters from all sorts of stories.

The problem with pessimism is that it’s not nearly so pleasant in real life. It’s difficult to put up with pessimists—and it’s much worse to be a pessimist.

Some time ago I realized something important. (I was actually going to write about it weeks ago, but decided not to post too many serious reflections in a row.) What I realized was simple—so simple I couldn’t believe I had overlooked it for so long.

I had become a pessimist. Not a nice, lovable pessimist like Puddleglum or Eeyore, but a genuine, depressed pessimist.

I suspect my long, dark Thursday Afternoon of the Soul, a year and a half of intense depression and anxiety, had conditioned me to expect only the worst. I expected the worst from myself, wrestling with insecurity and self-doubt. I expected the worst from life, living in anxiety of whatever difficulties lay ahead. I expected the worst from God, struggling to believe he could really be as gracious, loving and generous as he claims. Every trial confirmed my belief that life was a dreary business, and every blessing made me suspect there were strings attached.

Since recognizing my tendency toward pessimism, I’ve been working to perfect the fine art of blundering hopefully.

We don’t have to live in perpetual fear of the future. It holds difficulties, true, but it also holds blessings. It’s certainly no good worrying about the difficulties. We can only deal with them as they come. In the meantime our business is to trust God and do our best: believing that his grace is greater than our mistakes, trusting that he will walk with us through our difficulties, holding on to his promise that his love endures forever—to wit, blundering hopefully.

So I’m doing my best not to burden myself with guilt for past mistakes or live in fear of future ones. By faith I blunder onward, trusting that God’s grace is sufficient for me.

God’s grace is sufficient for you too, in case you were wondering.