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.

Fixing Our Eyes On God

Seek to be guided not by human judgement which is weak, narrow and blind, but by the divine wisdom which is sure, righteous and infallible. So shall we make all things serve our edification, yet leave untroubled the peace of our heart and mind. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 310-311

There is great immorality in our world. It is easy to focus on the evil and corruption and grieve for what we are losing. But of course, the crux of all of these problems stems from our turning  away from God. I don’t presume to know why God is permitting evil to reign in many areas of our culture and world, but perhaps it is to bring us to our knees so that we return to him. God loves us so very much and wants us to turn to him with all of our problems.  And so, let us fix our eyes and our thoughts on our Almighty Savior and ask for the grace to remain with him always.