Rediscovering Sin: Pusillanimity

I thought I knew them all but I was wrong. I learned a new sin. Pusillanimity. Did I mention that I also learned a new word?

Technically, pusillanimity is the state of being timid or cowardly but Aquinas' definition is better: A shrinking from greatness out of littleness of soul. It is caused by an ignorance of one's own capabilities and by a fear of failure. For an example, we may turn to Moses at the burning bush. Moses would have been prideful to take up the leadership of God's people without tremble but equally prideful, and pusillanimous, to refuse the command of his Creator. 

For me, this learning came with power. What I mean is that it came with the power of a new category, a new explanation, a new understanding, and with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Let me explain.

Shrinking from greatness caused by fear of failure? That's me. One of the characteristic fears in my life is a fear of failure. 

As a teenager I took kayaking lessons and joined a league. As with most sports, the season concluded with a tournament. I had been looking forward to it until, on the day of, I found out that a mistake had been made and I would be racing one class higher than my own. Failure was certain and so my eagerness became dread. Over the first half of the day, while other races took place, I literally made myself sick with fear. I threw up. I remember my mom asking me if I was really sick or if I was just worried about racing older boys. "No, I really am sick," I said. It would have been more truthful if I had replied "Yes, but I really am sick." I have no idea how I would have done, but I wish I had possessed the confidence and peace to take the unexpected in stride and to overcome my fear of failure. 

I have never again made myself sick with fear; but the fear has not gone away. The problem is that fear so often seems justified. Success is not guaranteed and so it makes sense to have a 'plan B.' But there is a line between right caution and fear. In fear I doubt what I know about myself (ignorance of my own capabilities) and I doubt what I know about God (both pride and pusillanimity). My sin is starkest in this: Even when it is God who calls, I do not move forward in confidence. 

I may shrink from risk rightly or wrongly and discerning which is true can be difficult. As a response, some level of fear, or at least trepidation, may be necessary. I say this because I do not want to label your fears as sin. May God convict you of the truth of things. My fear, however, often crosses the line.

When it comes to doubting God, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. The most common is this: To justify myself I frame my fear and my doubt as a doubt of whether or not God has called me to something. That way I can say to myself: "I am not doubting God, I am doubting my own ability to hear and understand God." Doesn't that seem so much more humble and accurate, coming from such a fallen, broken, sinful man? At times it is true. More often it is just a smokescreen to avoid obedience. 

I do not know where you stand but I stand convicted by the Spirit of pusillanimity. 

Learning this new category not only convicts me of sin but opens my eyes to the possibility of change. And so it is that I challenge you, and myself, to flee pusillanimity. Trust God. Grow in trusting God. 

Perhaps begin taking Sabbath each week. A whole day in which all your work in the world must survive without you, placed in the hands of God for safekeeping, in trust that when you return it will still be well. 

Or pray. Pray over something specific. Something secret, secret in that you tell no one and not in that you ought to confess it but have not, which you will place before the Lord and await His response.  

Whatever you do, wherever you stand, I pray that you and I would know and trust God, who He is, His power, and His calling, and stride forward in the confidence given us through Christ. And may we, in any new found confidence, not fall into the sin of pride in ourselves, but only trust in God. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post really shows great insight. The hope is our freedom from sin, even pusillanimity, through Jesus' death (Romans 6:14).