The whole idea behind brewing is to use the enzymes within malted barley to produce a liquid called “wort” – essentially unfermented beer. However very few novice beer brewers start off doing this. They typically use what is called “malt extract,” meaning that a manufacturer has already removed all of the appropriate enzymes from the barley, and packaged them in a concentrated form. In essence, much of the work is done for you: you simply have to bring the extract to a boil, and then once it has cooled introduce yeast to begin the fermentation process.
I have brewed several beers using this method, as well as several using a hybrid method called “partial mash,” which uses both malted barley and malt extract. However at the end of the fall semester of 2013, I decided I had enough brewing experience under my belt to tackle the more challenging task of “all-grain brewing.”
I prepared by reading on the subject for weeks upon end, and eventually decided that the only way I would learn would be to actually give all-grain brewing a try. When brewing day came around, I slaved in the kitchen for nearly four hours. Then I had to wait weeks upon end for the bottles to condition properly.
Finally around Christmas I eagerly cracked one open, looking forward to enjoying the fruits of my labor. To my dismay however, the beer tasted nothing like what I was shooting for. I had learned a lot in brewing my first all-grain, but none of that seemed to matter. The beer sat in our refrigerator for over a month, which is very uncommon for a house of 30 brothers. That was all the confirmation I needed: things had not gone the way I had planned.
This happens in our spiritual lives as well. Often we map out a plan and do all of the necessary legwork only to find that in the end something did not turn out the way we had planned. We may be left feeling angry, frustrated, or downright ashamed. It is in times like these that we need to keep in mind the advice of Mother Teresa:
God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.
How true! In a culture that exalts perfection we are often left with the feeling that we do not meet the proverbial mark. While we are certainly called to strive for perfection, we must come to the realization that on our own, we will always fall short of that perfection. What then are we to do?
We need invite God into these moments of weakness, and be humble enough to surrender our wills and lives over to God’s ineffable grace. Placing our weaknesses at the foot of the cross, we must surrender our desire to do everything on our own and invite Christ into the pain.
But as Mother Teresa suggests, we also need to persist in trying – again and again. God will give us the grace necessary to grow in virtue, and then he will give us opportunities to put this gift into practice. Each time we practice putting God’s grace to work in our spiritual lives we grow in appreciation of this gift, and we make progress in the life of virtue.
What are some areas of your life that you are determined to “hang on” to? Pray for the clarity to see where things are not “going as planned,” and spend some time offering these up to the Lord Jesus.