This begins in a rather silly place, but bear with me. When we went on vacation to the beach in September and I was slathering on the sunscreen and noting the amount of tan I was getting each day through walking and spending the morning at the water, I realized something. I’d grown up in a family with a pool and who took tanning seriously. It was something we did, goals we set. My mom and sister still sit out in the sun just to get a tan, as do my nieces. There’s nothing wrong with that (morally, I’m not talking about risks of skin cancer)…but it’s not something I do anymore. Which is fine.

But occasionally I feel like I have to apologize to them for it, or make excuses for why I don’t. I don’t have time… or My skin type is prone to skin cancer, I need to be careful.

But…WHY? Why do I feel that way? Maybe in part it’s because people will say “Oh, you look so nice with a little color in your cheeks!” or maybe it’s because sometimes people follow it up with, “You know, if you just spend 30 minutes outside a day, you could keep that tan all summer.” But I think mostly it’s because sometime in my childhood, I identified it as good. Which meant it was something to strive toward. Something to seek. Something…virtuous.

Of course, when I state it so baldly, it’s obviously not. Looking a certain way has nothing to do with virtue. Neither does having a beautifully decorated home or regularly washing your car or exercising daily or adhering to a particular diet. These things are perhaps vanity, perhaps pride, perhaps discipline, perhaps health-seeking. But they are not moral questions in and of themselves. They are not by nature virtuous or unvirtuous (though our pursuit of them could be). And because they’re silly examples, they’re the perfect entry point to asking myself a deeper question:

What else have I mistaken as a virtue that isn’t? What do I pursue, thinking it a Good, when it as best a “good,” but most likely just a thing? Where do I have my eyes fixed on the earthly where they should be fixed on the heavenly?

The whole tanning thing started the question, but some other “things” I’ve found are:

Reading. I love it, and I can get a lot of good out of it. But it does not make me better than non-readers, morally speaking. My son learns just as much from YouTube videos as I do from books. Being a book-lover is part of my identity…but it is not a virtue.

Being outdoorsy. We live in a beautiful area with lots of mountains and forests, and I spent a lot of time outside as a kid, as did my husband. But enjoying the outdoors is not a virtue. I am not sinning when I sit inside instead, even on beautiful days. I always appreciate the beauty of God’s world…but I can’t always be out in it. My work is almost entirely indoors.

Holding particular political views. In this divided climate, I hear so many people equating belonging to a particular political party or holding to a certain political view as “right” and “good” and even “Godly.” But the truth is that Jesus never once encouraged people to engage in politics or take political sides. He invites us to keep our eyes on the Kingdom of God instead of the kingdoms of men.

I’m sure there are many other places that I need to separate “enjoyable” or “worthwhile” from truly VIRTUOUS, and it’s something I’ve begun keeping an eye out for. Because plenty of things really are worthwhile and can enrich our lives and our faith…but if we apply that “virtuous” label to them, then we think they’re good for everyone, because virtues ARE. But these things are NOT on that level. They can be good, yes…but they are not required for all. They can be good without being virtuous.

Is there anything in your life that you’ve mistaken for a virtue when really it’s a simple lower-case-g good?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email