One of the characters in Dicken’s Dombey and Son, Mr. Dombey’s sister, often comments that people would not suffer as they do if they would only put forth a little more effort.
I am afraid that I too am sometimes tempted to reduce the suffering and failings of others to such a simplistic condemnation: If only they’d make an effort.
Can you imagine the outcry if someone said publicly, “Terry Fox would have made it across Canada if he had only put forth a little more effort”? What a justified outcry we would hear! Terry had only one leg; he was dying from Cancer; he did more than most perfectly healthy people ever do. It is ridiculous to say that he should have or could have put forth more effort. Terry gave 110%, but it was not enough. The deck was stacked against him.
Perhaps we can easily see how unjust it is to say Terry should have tried harder because we could easily see both how hard he did try and how serious his handicaps were. However, what about those whose handicaps and valiant efforts cannot be seen. There are lots of ways the deck is stacked against people.
In the Church we have to always remember that we are a community of the poor, the blind, the maimed and the lame. The handicaps differ widely. Some are obvious, most are hidden. In fact, most of our handicaps are even unknown to ourselves. It takes great spiritual struggle to come to see one’s own weaknesses as they really are. And yet whether we see it or not we are handicapped. It is evidenced in our inability to live the lives we long to live, to love the way we long to love, to show kindness, generosity and faith the way we really do want to–when we are in our right minds and being our best selves.
Telling a lame person to try harder to walk does no good and only showcases your own blindness. Telling someone whose life is falling or has fallen apart to try harder manifests the same blindness.