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The Art of Being Contradictory

by Fr. Jonathan Atchley

Better known as the virtue of humility, the capacity to contradict oneself is the hard-won goal of living wisely. The dictum “Know thyself” soon reveals that thyself doesn’t know everything. In time, one should come to see that what you want isn’t always best for you. Living consonantly with self-denial and mortification can bring about the greatest fruits. At least, such is the message of the Cross.


It is amusing—if one can manage the patience and presence of mind--to gaze wonderingly on a two-year old adamantly refusing you. “Don’t play with your food.” “No!” “Time for bed.” “No!” And so on. Not just amusing, to my thinking, but amazing: where the devil does that little person find the gumption to defy larger and older parents and siblings?

Please don’t rush off to the modern psychology section of the library to find answers. Instead, look to yourself and your own experience. We all went through that phase, and if we survived it with a smattering of wisdom, we’d well recall that not everything we thought was right for me…or was right and good at all. “Don’t put your fingers in that wall socket!” “Pick up your toys!” On and on, we were raised with commands from our betters and superiors, such that our psyches seem to be geared towards holding back and refusing.


Part of growing up is letting go of saying “but what about what I want?” Married love is a testimony to the fruitful blessings brought about by self-denial. Most couples learn eventually that what one wants can be detrimental and even deathly to themselves and their loved ones. Consider the sex-crazed sixties, the materialism and consumerism of the eighties, the arrogant entitlement of the 21st century. Who knows what the blind spots of this current generation will be, but understanding our fallen human nature, you can certainly count on some form of self-adulation, even if that means denigrating the human person as abortion, homosexuality and transgenderism do.


I would like to think that all of our childlike nay-saying was a kind of preparatory wisdom, a form of self-abnegation that teaches us how to resist temptation, to find peace with one’s state in life, to learn to cease searching outside for peace that abides internally, and to encounter the person of Christ as our true love and ultimate hope rather than our broken and wounded egos. Go on then, telling those around you “no,” but in winning ways, be it with quirky humor or steadfast earnestness, that you may help yourself and others find freedom from worldly distractions to embrace the winsome joys even now of God’s foreordained peace.

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