I’m currently reading a book of Flannery O’Connor’s letters, and in it I came across a phrase I hadn’t heard before — passive diminishment. The idea came from a work by Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a Jesuit priest. He maintained that in life, we are either acting or being acted upon, and both of these things could work to increase our maturity, growth, love and goodness. They could also cause a decline in those things. The way that we respond makes the difference.
O’Connor was diagnosed at a fairly young age with Lupus. This meant that she would be limited in her physical endurance, and what she would be able to accomplish during her lifetime. She wrote that “vocation implies limitation’– she understood that both her gift for writing and her illness would make demands upon her, and she was able to accept this.
This led me to realize that we all have limitations. They may be physical, like Flannery’s. They may be mental — depression or anxiety perhaps. We may be limited by the life we have chosen –deciding to raise children, for example; or we may be limited by a disease or disability that just happened to us. These things are part of human life, and we all experience them.
We can become bitter and angry about our limitations, or we can work within them. The apostle Paul spoke about his “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know exactly what that was, and it probably kept him from doing all of the things he wanted to do. However, it didn’t keep God from using him. In fact, he said:
” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 1 Corinthians 12:9b-10
Paul allowed his weakness to be a vehicle for displaying God’s strength. He learned to rely upon the one who made Him, rather than his own power. So did Flannery O’Connor, and so should you and I.
For more about acceptance see: