Christianity Is Worth Doing Badly

An often misunderstood aphorism from G.K. Chesterton tells us that “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”  Chesterton is not suggesting that we shouldn’t put forth any effort into the things worthy of our doing.  He is, however, suggesting that those things that are worthy of our doing are normally things that we ought to do, even if the results are poor.  In other words, while differential equations are left to expert mathematicians and medicinal prescriptions are left to those professionally trained in medicine, things like child rearing and educating or cooking for one’s family are worth doing, and because they are worth doing, they ought to be done by everyone, even if the results for some may turn out badly.

Chesterton’s diagnosis of the modern world is that we leave things that ought to be done by all, the things most worthy of doing, to be done by a few because we expect good results without wanting to put in the effort.  For instance, he worries that mothers might simply want to rid themselves of the task of rearing children and therefore entrust such duties to daycare (or nannies).  But, as Chesterton sees it, childrearing is a task worthy of all parents since parents carry out the task in love, whereas the daycare and nanny carry out the task for monetary gain.  Thus, the most basic of things to us are things worth doing and they are worth being done by all of us, no matter how poor the results.

Today’s Gospel warns us that not everyone who claims Christianity is actually a Christian.  In fact, Jesus tells us that the ones who truly love him must do the will of his Father.  In other words, the message of the Gospel is a message that is not just to be heard, but a task to be lived out.  And the task of Christian living is not a task charged to ordained presbyters, vowed religious, or professional theologians; rather, it is a task charged to all of us.  Some of us may be able to live out the Gospel better than others because we have learned to perfect certain virtues.  And some of us, and I belong to this group, may look like a bunch of amateurs while living out our Gospel calling because we still have all these attachments of the world.  Yet, if Chesterton is to be believed, we cannot write off our amateur Christian living and entrust it to those we deem “holier” than us.  We cannot live with the attitude that says, “I just can’t do it, but I’m sure someone else better than me will.”  The task of the Gospel is worth doing, and it is worth doing badly.


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