"Abba John the Little said: 'We have abandoned a light burden, namely self-criticism and taken up a heavy burden, namely self-justification.'

". . . Abba John had no delusions about the nature of spiritual development. It comes, he teaches, from the standards to which we hold ourselves, by the efforts we make to be the best we can be, whatever the distance between our goals and our achievements. It is not measured by the excuses we give for not being the person we said we would be.

"The spiritual life is not about self-justification: it is not about explaining why we are not the spiritual giants the world has a right to expect us to be. It's a matter of speaking the truth in a culture lived to lies. It means staying the course on behalf of the poor. It means refusing to back down when the oppressed, the marginalized, and women are simply ignored by the powerful and the wealthy. It is about having the courage to admit to ourselves those moments where we could have spoken out, spoken up, spoken on for those who have no voice. It is about why we were silent when we could have, should have, spoken. It is a matter of asking ourselves, for whose favor did we prostitute our souls? Or, just as serious, for whom did we do good, not for their sake but for the approval of those whose favor we ourselves were seeking?

"Abba John warns us: spiritual integrity is not about self-justification, the impossible burden of which exhausts the soul. It is about the liberation that comes from self-criticism. It is about being freed by self-criticism to go beyond the emptiness of the self to the point of stretching over and over again to be the self we were born to be."