The Great Secret of Enduring Dislike of Our Work

“I can easily realize that the dislike of the work you do makes your ordeal the heavier; yet recollect the rewards of the martyrs, who have undergone ordeals far more sorrowful.

In such a state it is natural to feel an increased zest for the solitary life. Yet the life of obedience is of greater worth: it is one long sacrifice, and if there be more causes for vexation in it, there are also many opportunities of acquiring merit. Persist in being altogether steadfast in it, until you reach the state when you hesitate to say one word that may detach you from the cross of Jesus Christ.

The great secret of enduring wretchedness with patience is to look upon it as God’s cross, to be ranked with sickness and other afflictions of this life.  Were God to send you these exterior and perceptible maladies you would endure them patiently. Do you then endure your interior ordeals with the same patience.” – from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 380 (emphasis mine)

As I was typing the above quote from the book, I was interrupted about ten times by my children. When I wasn’t interrupted, I was treated to the cacophony of sounds emitting from my three oldest boys as they ate their lunch. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to find one’s writing voice amidst the noise. Now, as I just got the three big boys quietly settled, the baby has awoken, and my peaceful afternoon of dishes and laundry will be spliced between feedings, diaper changes, and baths. And so it goes.

There are days in my life where the cloister greatly appeals to me. Raising four boys in the north where winter is prominent six months out of the year is a noisy business and not for the faint of heart who may swoon at every fight among boys. There are many moments when I just want to retreat into myself and forget the responsibilities surrounding me. However, this is only a testament to how tightly I hold onto my own self-love.

In this passage, Fr. de Cassaude is urging us to recognize the sameness between exterior and interior trials. Of course, if we fall ill, we have no control over that; it is God’s business to sanctify us through the illness, and we may rightly surrender that exterior trial. But do we also surrender those wants and desires of our hearts interiorly? Do we surrender the ideals that live deep within us? Or are we constantly fighting against the life that God has laid out for us?

Fr. de Caussade tells us that the great secret to enduring wretchedness in this life is to patiently accept everything. But what is everything? It is anything that we find difficult, monotonous, or physically painful. It is anything that insults our ideal for this life; it’s any imperfect part of our life that we haven’t yet accepted and offered to God.

And so, while a blog post about God may be a very good thing indeed, I must patiently endure the interruptions, the noise, and accept that God is giving me the opportunity to cooperate with him as he peels off yet another layer of self-love. I am giving up what I would like to do, in order to better serve Him who sustains all that I do.

We Must Continually Renew Our Commitment to Practice Self-Abandonment

To wish to give up your concern in yourself in order to be concerned only with God, and yet to come back continually to self is, I admit, a temptation as persistent as gnats in autumn; we must, therefore, drive this temptation away as persistently as we drive the gnats away, never becoming wearied in our efforts yet making them gently and without grief or vexation, by humiliating ourselves before God, as we do in similar troubles. We ourselves constrain God to afflict us with this wretchedness that we may be reduced to humility and a greater measure of self-scorn. If, despite this, we reveal so little humility and so much esteem of ourselves, how would it be if we were exempt from such wretchedness?-from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 382-383 (emphasis mine)

As we practice self-abandonment, we may find that we continually fail to make such practice a worthy one. Or we may find that we more often seek holiness for our own sake rather than seeking God himself. However, were God not to allow such temptations,– that often tend to spur us on to renew our commitment to him evermore — then, Fr. de Caussade writes, we would surely be mired even more in the wretchedness of our self-love.

So we should not be discouraged if we fail time and again in this holy practice of offering all to God, for he allows it only insomuch as we grow closer to him. Praise God in his mercy and draw near to him in all things, for even when we succumb to temptation, God burns with a love and desire for us to be wholly united with him. We need only rest again in his peace by admitting our extreme weakness and with contrite hearts, ask for forgiveness and the grace to soldier on in union with him.

At first, it may be difficult to admit that we are weak. And even though we admit it, our self-love may prevent us from really believing it. But if we remain faithful, God will reward us by increasing in us the virtue of humility. And when this happens, there is great freedom in admitting our weakness. The burdens of self-reliance, failure and shame are all lifted, and the freedom we find is the freedom from the bonds of sin. This does not mean that we no longer sin, only that when we do, we are not slaves to it; we are free to practice virtue once again because of his infinite mercy and forgiveness.

Sacrificing Our Dearest Interests

God requires us to perform our duties, but he does not require us to be curious as to whether we are deserving or not. You give too much thought to yourself; you are too greatly concerned with yourself under the pious pretext of seeking advancement in the way of God. Forget yourself, to think only of him, and abandon yourself to the decrees of his divine Providence. For then he will himself make you progress, will purify and exalt you without a doubt, exactly as, when and in the degree, it shall please him. For what have we to do but to give him pleasure, and in all things and in all places to desire what he desires? We range far and wide in pursuit of perfection, while we have it almost at our door: namely, in our longing to do God’s will everything and never our own. Yet to reach this state of affairs we must renounce and sacrifice what, in one sense, are our dearest interests, and it is this that we are unwilling to do; for we would have God sanctify and perfect us in accordance with our own ideas and inclinations. What wretched, pitiful blindness! –from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 374, (emphasis mine)

Note here that Fr. de Caussade does not implore us to accomplish all that God desires, but only to desire all that God desires.   Is it not easy for us to get caught up in our checklists of life and to become discouraged when we inevitably do not finish all that we begin or complete it perfectly?  Desiring God’s will is much easier than completing the plans that we have designed for our own holiness. (Matthew 11:30). After all, it is God alone who makes us holy; our only credit to holiness is utter submission to his holy will, but even that is not done without the fantastic grace of God.

Even when we desire to surrender to God’s will, there remains attachments to our own vision of how to become as holy as we ought. But do we really know how holy we ought to become? Do we, in our blindness, really know how God intends to sanctify us? Do we let go all our “dearest interests” of what we think will be good for us, or do we allow God to lead us down a path that looks nothing like the one we had designed for ourselves?

It is no doubt difficult to let go of those things that we see as good, but surely we are not God, and we do not know the future. And so letting go of even those things that are good, requires a blind trust in the One that is all good, all-knowing, indeed Love himself.                (‎1 Corinthians 13:8-9, 13)

Our True Self is God

In fact, why be so concerned with self? The true self is God, since he is far more the life of my soul than my soul is the life of my body. God has created me only for himself: let our thought then be of him, and his thought shall be of us, while he will provide for everything far better than ourselves. When we fall, let us humiliate ourselves, pick ourselves up, and continue our way in peace. That way is at all times to ponder upon the true self which is God — God in whom we must plunge and lose ourselves, rather as we shall find ourselves plunged and lost in heaven, in the everlasting duration of eternity’s great day. — Amen! Amen!”from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 430-431

If our very self is God as we are made in his image and likeness, should not our very core — our soul — be wholly united to our creator?  We were not made for our own glory or our own path; for as Fr. de Caussade writes, our creator made us for his own glory that sets us on a path which, if we follow — or at the very start, desire to follow — will bring us wholly in union with him alone.

This path includes detachment from all created things for Christ is begotten, not made; it includes suffering as we unite with our sinless Christ who suffered for us, who deserve only hell; it includes persecution as we stand for truth, of which there is only one found in our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is only on this path that we  find true happiness, everlasting peace, and eternal life.

For if we do not renounce all that comes between us and God, we will always be searching for the only thing we desire. I would venture that most do not recognize what will bring them lasting peace. But whether we recognize it or not, the only thing we truly desire is full union with God since our very selves are God.

God calls us to a greater life, even though we are wholly unworthy. We would only settle for the lesser things of this world if we do not know him.

Violent Temptations to Despondancy

As for the terrifying temptation of which your letter gives me an account, I confess that it would be difficult to imagine one more dreadful, either in itself or in the particular circumstances. Take good care, nevertheless, not to allow yourself to despond. Realize in the first place that these, the most sorrowful of all ordeals, are those which God usually constrains those he most loves to undergo.

Your need, in truth, is to be forever afraid, yet showing neither grief nor dejection, and leaning far more towards trust. Never forget that the Almighty, who furthers his plans in his hidden ways, at such times possesses himself of the soul’s recesses and divinely uphold it, unperceived by ourselves.

Plainly your terror-inspiring conception of God’s justice and the anguish and interior bitterness that comes of it are another of God’s ordeals. It is as plain that the peace and tranquility which go with these sorrowful feelings of yours spring from the submission which God maintains in your soul’s depths. Such peace and the interior conviction that all you do in no way serves to bring you nearer heaven are less difficult to understand than you imagine…That peace is of God; it dwells in the depths of the soul, or as St. Francis de Sales says, in the apex of the spirit…

That terrifying conviction is no more than the spirited assault the demon is allowed to make upon the soul’s lower part, or, to express it differently, upon its exterior and sense-conscious part. It is the diabolical assault that constitutes the soul’s martyrdom; while it is the submission God grants it that ensures a peace that owes nothing to the senses. Say unceasingly with a firm will: “God will make of me all that it pleases him, yet in the meantime my constant wish is to love and serve him as best I may, and to put my hope in him; I would keep that hope even though I saw myself at the very gates of hell.”

It is a matter of faith that God never forsakes those who surrender themselves to him and who put their full trust in him. Repeat, therefore: “He is the God of my salvation, and never shall my salvation be more assured than when I entrust it to his hands by placing my full trust in his infinite goodness, since of myself I am capable only of coming to perdition and spoiling everything.” -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 401-403 (all emphasis mine.)

Our senses, which reside in the lower part of our soul, are really quite strong. They allow us to perceive the presence of God in our lives. They can also hide the presence of God in our lives. When the latter happens, we may feel a strong temptation to despond of God’s grace. However, when God allows our senses — in the lower part of our soul — to hide his providential care, he invariably increases our faith, making it inconceivable to us that God has abandoned us.

Therefore, while we do not sensually perceive God’s presence, our faith, which God has freely given and placed in the higher part of our soul, will not allow us to believe that he is anywhere but carrying us along the path that he has chosen for our good.

We must continually return to abandoning ourselves through an act of the will, which has more merit than an act of desire catapulted alone by the consolation of God’s presence.

Distinguishing What is God’s from What is Ours

You will be tranquil only when you learn how to distinguish what is God’s from what is the self’s, and to separate what  belongs to him and what is your own.

“You ask: Why cannot you teach me that secret? As to that, you do not know what you are asking. Certainly I can teach it to you forthwith; yet you can practice it interiorly only on condition that you are peacefully conscious of your own pitifulness. I specify peacefully so that grace may have its opportunity of working.

“Bear in mind the saying of St. Francis de Sales: You do not put on perfection as you put on a dress. In this secret you ask of me is to be found for the seeking. Impress it thoroughly upon yourself that your longing may sink slowly into your soul. Everything good in you originates in God; everything evil, spoilt, and corrupt originates in yourself.  Set aside, then, nothingness and sin, evil habits and inclinations, abysmal weakness and wretchedness. These are your portion; these originate in, and unquestionably belong to, you. Everything else — the body and its senses, the soul and its energies, the modicum of good you have performed — are God’s portion. It so manifestly belongs to him that you realize you cannot claim one whit of it as yours, nor feel one grain of complacency, without being guilty of theft and larceny against God. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 196-197 (bold emphasis mine)

Fr. de Caussade writes that we can obtain peace with the pride in ourselves only when we can distinguish what is God’s from what is self’s. He tells the secret for how to do this yet, ultimately, as with every spiritual milestone, it is a grace that God alone must work in us. He does ask us, however, to impress the following upon our hearts repeatedly so that our ‘longing may sink into our souls’: “Everything good in you originates in God; everything evil, spoilt, and corrupt originates in yourself.”

An Offering of Ourselves to God

…take the case, he [St. Francis de Sales] said, of the worst sinner in the world who with his dying breath makes ungrudging offering of his life to God by the complete surrender of himself to God’s divine purpose and his beneficent Providence. No matter how great that sinner’s crimes, God would in no case condemn him. I, too, believe this, since such an offering is a perfect act of love, able, like baptism or martyrdom, of itself to wipe away all sins. Let us then frequently perform these acts of love by restoring to God’s custody all that he has lent us since he could not give it to us in our own right. And since in the language of Jesus Christ we must once more become as children, let us emulate those little ones whose father, as part of their training, asks them to return one or more of the toys and the sweets which he has given them. Only silliness or selfishness will prevent us from saying to him: dear Father, take what you want–they’re all yours. Actually the child gives what is not his to give. Yet his father’s heart is moved by these small indications of a lovable disposition. He calls the little one his dear and beloved child, he kisses it; from that time onward, towards that child he is even more generous than before. When God gives us the opportunity of making an offering to himself, this is the attitude he in his kindness adopts towards us. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 186-187 (emphasis mine)

All suffering is difficult, but physical illness may be especially challenging because it is hard to see with the eyes of God when we are distracted by our own pain. As a result, we turn inward, nursing our wounded pride that such an assault would dare be upon us. In short, we feel sorry for ourselves.

Physical suffering limits our ability to do great things or even simple things — at least physically. But when we get mired in our own selves and what we are now unable to do, we fail to realize that all that God asks from us is a simple fiat: a surrender of ourselves — our whole, physical selves — to him. Short of this, he doesn’t ask us to do anything else; that is a charge that we put upon ourselves to serve our own pride.

It would do us well to remember that we are not entitled to good health necessarily. This, too, is something God gives and takes away as he wills. And if we freely offer to him what is not even ours to give (our whole selves), God is moved to look upon our feeble offering kindly and with a generous heart.

Unshakeable Trust in God

When we have reached the lowest depths of our nothingness, we can have no kind of trust in ourselves, nor in any way rely upon our works; for in these are to be found only wretchedness, self-love, and corruption. Such complete distrust and utter scorn of the self is the one source from which originate those delightful consolations of souls wholly surrendered to God–their unalterable peace, their blessed joy and their unshakeable trust in none but God. Ah, would that you knew the gift of God, the reward and the merit and the power and the peace, the blessed assurances of salvation that are hidden in this abandonment; then would you soon be rid of all your fears and anxieties! -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 207 (emphasis mine)

In a culture that emphasizes rugged individualism and self-reliance, ideas such as the one Fr. de Caussade posits here is quite counter to how we may normally process our thoughts. For those of us beholden to ourselves, i.e. our pride, we may find that it sounds disingenuous to renounce any good of our own making and to give all such glory to God.

However, if we but practice this renunciation of self-love, little by little, God will reward us with the finest grace of humility, and it will become easier until at once it is second nature, and we can rest peacefully in our wretchedness without feeling duplicitous.

Spiritual Dryness

I am no more in love with the restless pursuit of alleviations of spiritual than of physical poverty and wretchedness. This arises from overmuch tenderness towards oneself. I long for strong and courageous souls able to endure the apparent absences of the heavenly Spouse–those signed to detach us from mere feelings, even from spiritual consolation. For God’s gifts are not God. He alone is all; he alone is worth all; he alone must be all for us. – from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 195 (emphasis mine)

Sometimes we may feel that God has abandoned us because we don’t experience joyful consolation. Sometimes we may feel like not praying because we just can’t find any words that seem to convey adequate praise toward God. (Truth be told, even on our best days of prayers, our words are most likely not adequate for our Most High Lord.)

Certainly God may remove consolation from us for various reasons. One of the reasons may be to test our faithfulness. Do we trust God even when life challenges us? Do we accept our suffering, trusting that God, in his goodness, will bring about good from it? Are we patient, waiting on God’s perfect timing to heal us? If we cannot answer yes to all of these questions, God may remove consolation so that we come to rely solely on him and not the the good feelings or circumstances that he provides for us.

God wants only the best for his children. Then why, if he himself is so much greater than his gifts, would he grace us with something less than himself? And maybe the better question to ask is why would we lower our dignity to accept something less than God offers?

God never abandons us. It is we who walk away from him. If we are feeling spiritually dry, let us yet remain with him, knowing that he has reason and that this too shall pass.

A God Who Cannot Refuse Us

Again, even if in certain circumstances you are in considerable doubt, ought that to make you despond? You must lift your heart to God who cannot refuse to give you guidance now that he has taken all other guides from you. Without hesitation you must make up your mind as to what in good faith you believe most expedient and most useful for souls, and most in accordance with God’s will. Whatever may happen afterwards, you will know that you have acted wisely, since you could not do better in the circumstances. You surely do not imagine that God asks the impossible? Our infinitely good God loves uprightness and simplicity; he is content when we do what we can, having previously and trustfully implored his divine guidance. –from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 311 (emphasis mine)

If we feel as though we are failing in a particular area of our lives, we should ask ourselves whether we have actually asked God for help. Often God may wait on the solution as he waits patiently for us to approach him.

However, maybe we have prayed and no answer was forthcoming — what then? Fr. de Caussade answers quite confidently that, “God…cannot refuse to give you guidance now that he has taken all other guides from you.” And so we soldier on in “good faith”, trusting that God does not ask the impossible of us.