There is a passage in Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation that I keep coming back to. Merton writes:

Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints; they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by the circumstances of their individual lives…They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint.

Are you trying to be someone else?

Are you trying to be someone else? (montage: Jason Fowler)

Our goal should be to be the absolutely unique person God calls us to be.

There are many people who want to live like Shane Claiborne or Wendell Berry, but that would be a mistake. This is not to say that we should not learn from lives well lived—there are lots of things worth imitating—but we have to ask where God has called us and to what he has called us.

What a shame it would be if Jean Vanier tried to be like Wendell Berry instead of opening up his life to the severely mentally disabled. What a shame it would be if Wendell Berry, inspired by Mother Theresa, thought that faithfulness required going to an urban slum.

There are many ways and places to live faithful lives. Our primary task is to listen and surrender to God, and in that to surrender to our true selves—not our imagined self, not our self subsumed in a role model—our self as the unique being we were created to be by God.

Ragan Sutterfield

Ragan Sutterfield (M.Div. Virginia Theological Seminary) is ordained in the Episcopal Church and serves a parish in his native Arkansas. is the author of 'This is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit and Deeper Faith', 'Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us',and the small collection of essays 'Farming as a Spiritual Discipline'. Ragan works to live the good life in partnership with his wife Emily and daughters Lillian and Lucia.

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