The proper response to ideals we fail to attain—or indeed do not have the capacity to attain—is neither to lower the ideal nor to throw up our hands in bitter despair because we fail to reach the ideal. Rather, it is to allow our failure to become a kind of “severe mercy.” This phrase is from a letter that C.S. Lewis wrote to Sheldon Vanauken regarding the death of Vanauken’s beloved wife Davy. Perhaps, Lewis gently suggests, the loss of Davy might become “a mercy that was as severe as death, a death that was as merciful as love.” Losses and failures can become a mercy if they sharpen our longing for the glorious love we are created to participate in and embody. We weren’t created to be normies. We were created to be saints. And we ought to be dissatisfied with anything less. We will never be able to love our family members and neighbors as their eternal glory merits. But that failure attests to the incredible, not-yet-realized glory entrusted to us.

Jeff Bilbro on the ideals raised by work like Wendell Berry’s, and how Jayber Crow can help us cope with resulting despair