Humanly Best

After Buechner’s father’s death, the family moved to Bermuda, rather to Grandma Buechner’s disapproval:

“You should stay and face reality,” she wrote, and in terms of what was humanly best, this was perhaps the soundest advice she could have given us: that we should stay and, through sheer Scharmann endurance, will, courage, put our lives back together by becoming as strong as she was herself. But when it comes to putting broken lives back together— when it comes, in religious terms, to the saving of souls— the human best tends to be at odds with the holy best. To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do —  to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst —  is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own. Surely that is why, in Jesus’ sad joke, the rich man has as hard a time getting into Paradise as that camel through the needle’s eye because with his credit card in his pocket, the rich man is so effective at getting for himself everything he needs that he does not see that what he needs more than anything else in the world can be had only as a gift. He does not see that the one thing a clenched fist cannot do is accept, even from le bon Dieu himself, a helping hand.

from “Listening to Your Life” by Frederick Buechner