That One Thing

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By Carolyn Shields

A few months ago someone replied to one of our newsletters saying how ‘young Catholic women’ shouldn’t use the word ‘pissed,’ and because of this, they were unsubscribing. I felt so sorry for them. That newsletter was written during a really tough time, and it was pretty clear that I was struggling. I wrote about those hard truths I learned from the experience I was going through, but that person chose to fixate on one word, and in doing so, shut off everything else.

Similarly, we recently published an article where the author mentioned that practicing yoga helped her, but someone stated if it weren’t for that one sentence, they would have shared it with multiple people. Again, how sad that one thing eclipsed all the other goodness!

I think it’s one of those little tricks that the devil plays. We let one snide comment ruin our day, or we let one character flaw in our spouse trigger an avalanche of complaints, or we cancel a second date because his voice was just too squeaky. I wrote about this already here and extensively in The Most Sinister Sin, which talks about how we often let our one, big, obvious fat sin distract us from even realizing that we are committing other ones.

C.S Lewis wrote a book called Screwtape Letters, which is written as a series of letters between an experienced demon and a younger demon seeking advice. In this satire, the proposal is that every man doesn’t just have a guardian angel, but also a personal demon. Here is an excerpt from the senior demon giving advice to his inferior:

When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother's eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy - if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this easily managed.

Shoot! Right? And these little ways of catching that one thing, be it a word, a comment, or whatever, almost is like we are building a habit of doing so! Think about it, it can take work to recognize those little things in life that bring you joy, to notice God in the small things, but we unintentionally can build this same habit in the other direction.

So let’s take this to our day to day. The Holy Spirit loves using the little things. God loves using little ones to carry out His work. But the devil has caught on, though we have no need to fear as long as we recognize his filthy little bag of tricks. It’s like he wafts by with some pungent, sickly sweet perfume. Or he’s like the blaring sun breaking straight into your eyes and you have to squint to see.

We can’t let that one thing take away from all the goodness, truth, and beauty that is being offered.

Let those truths break free. Let the goodness resound. Let beauty be wild.