The pleasure of a good act is something to be remembered — not in order to feed our complacency but in order to remind us that virtuous actions are not only possible and valuable, but that they can become easier and more delightful and more fruitful than the acts of vice which oppose and frustrate them. — “Thoughts in Solitude” Page 21.
So often in Christian circles we can spend significant time talking about our issues, our sins, our struggles, our anxieties, our temptations, and other ways that Satan pulls us away from the Lord that we forget to celebrate the good things that the Lord has done in our lives.
It can feel like we are boasting, or tempting fate, if we say “Hey, I actually fled temptation this week. When faced with that thing that so often trips me up, I turned to scripture, called a friend, or just changed my circumstances and I didn’t fall into that temptation. And, you know what? It felt great. I feel so much better about myself, I didn’t harm others and my relationships are stronger for it, etc.”
It sometimes feels like if we say those things we are just setting ourselves up for failure, but nothing could be further from the truth. You’re not going to sin more because you focused on the benefits of not sinning. That doesn’t make sense, but our minds are so infected with the idea of “jinxes” and having to knock on wood whenever we say something good that we think that a celebration of the work of God in our lives will cause fate to turn on us.
We also fear that pride will come before a fall and that if we boast in doing good, we will get too arrogant and then stumble. That is possible, which is why you should always have a humble spirit and acknowledge that the victories are from the Lord. But Merton goes on to address this, “A false humility should not rob us of the pleasure of conquest which is due to us and necessary for spiritual life, especially in the beginning.”
True humility is being able to celebrate the victories in your life without attributing them to your own abilities and goodness. And his point about the importance of this in the beginning is key as well. If a sin is no longer a huge temptation for you, then it’s probably not worth celebrating week-in and week-out that you didn’t struggle with it that week. That is where arrogance and a feeling of self-mastery can creep in.
Psalm 37:4 says to “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” If we delight ourselves in doing good and we find pleasure in running to the Lord, we will receive the desires of our heart. But do you see the catch there? If we find pleasure in the things of God, then the desires of our heart are the things of the Lord. This verse isn’t saying to delight ourselves in the Lord and then we’ll get the house and job and car we’ve always wanted. If we want the things of the Lord, he will give the things of the Lord to us.
In Alcoholics Anonymous they love to celebrate even small victories, because they know that reminders of the pleasures of sobriety help those who are struggling remember why they are fighting the temptations to take that next drink. This is a principle that we need more of in modern Christianity.
Even if you fell into temptation six out of the seven days of the last week, think about that one day that you didn’t give in to the pull and remind yourself how much better that day was. Thank the Lord for that day and ask Him to make today like that one.
I say all of this as someone who is far from practicing these principles on a daily basis. I’m speaking to myself as much as I’m speaking to anyone. But I’ve always loved this chapter by Merton because it talks about something that I don’t see discussed enough in modern Christianity and I think it could really help people who are struggling with any kind of issue.
So remember to celebrate the victories God has won in your life this week, even if you feel they are few and far between.