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.

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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.

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.

A Prayer When We Are Suffering

‘O God, you have allowed this to be; may your adorable desires and decrees be accomplished in all things: I make you a sacrifice of this difficulty and all its consequences; it shall take whatever form it pleases you: you are the Master; may you be blessed for all things and in all things. Fiat!

‘For love of you, with all my heart I pardon the person who is the cause of my suffering; and, to show the sincerity of my feelings towards her, I beseech you to grant her every kind of grace, blessing and happiness.’  When your heart cries out against this, say: ‘O God, you see my wretchedness; at least I long to have all these feelings, and I implore you for your grace.’  Once you have done this, think no more of it; if unworthy sentiments continue to torment you, resign yourself to endure that torment and so comply with the divine will that allows it, contenting yourself with renewing your offering in the depths of your soul. This is a noble means of sharing in the chalice of our good Master, Jesus Christ. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 310 (emphasis mine)

This is such a beautiful prayer, but how often does our impatience, fear of failure, or vexations about others who may have wronged us drive out such sentiments? If we were to remain focused on Jesus and his passion, we could more readily accept our own suffering. Prayers like this repeated again and again can help us grow to trust in God and his perfect plan to bring about our salvation.

Relinquishing Our Fears

You must not harbour the slightest doubt that God, who never abandons those who abandon themselves to him, will fail to inspire her whose duty it is to reveal God’s will to you as to what is most needful for yourself. One of three things will inevitably happen: either you will be given relief; or God will preserve and strengthen you; or he will allow you to die, taking you to himself from out this miserable life. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 266 [Fr. de Caussade is writing to Sr. Marie-Henriette de Bousmard advising her that since God has inspired her superior, she need not fear her orders.] (emphasis mine)

When we are fearful may be the most difficult time to abandon ourselves to God. When we can see no solution to an inevitable problem, it is painful to let go and be unafraid.

However, God does not want us to abandon ourselves to him only when it is easy. He wants us to trust in him even when we don’t know where the road ahead will lead. But we do have a map: as Fr. de Caussade writes, God will deliver us from our fear, strengthen us in our trials, or remove us from this miserable life. We know that God will do one of three things for those who abandon themselves to him, so we need only wait on him and his perfect timing.

Bearing with Oneself

A soul to which God has revealed its shortcomings is far more of a burden to itself than its neighbour can be.  For, however near he be, that neighbour is not always by our side, while in no case is he within us.  We are our own burden, on the other hand; we cannot escape ourselves for a single moment, nor lose ourselves from sight and feeling, nor cease from trailing everywhere we go our imperfections and our failings.  The supreme manifestation of God’s infinite goodness lies in the fact that the sorrow and the shame these failings cause us, cure us of them, always provided that the shame does not become vexation and that the sorrow is inspired by love of God and not by self-love. Sorrow born of self-love is full of perturbation and bitterness: far from healing our soul’s wounds it serves only to pour poison into them. On the contrary, sorrow springing from love of God is serene and full of abandonment. While it abhors the fault, it delights in the humiliation which is its sequel: as a consequence it gives all the credit to the humiliation, thus making loss itself an opportunity for gain. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 188-189 (emphasis mine)

When we practice patience with our faults, not only do we gain peace, but humility as well. Knowing that we fall far from God’s perfect nature, knowing that we are mere creatures of the most high God should release us from the burden to be flawless. As with any virtue, patience is a habit that we must practice. Reflecting on God’s gentleness and mercy can help us to be patient with ourselves.  For if God, who never makes mistakes, is patient with our faults, who are we to do any less?

No longer, then, torment yourself on account of your failings and of the imperfection of your works.  Make God an offering of the sorrow that imperfection brings you, and allow his merciful Providence to redeem these small infidelities by small afflictions and troubles of every kind.  Let patience be your one weapon; after a fall pick yourself up as speedily as possible, lamenting the tumble only with meek and tranquil humility. God wills it thus. Moreover, by such unwearied patience, you render him more glory and yourself make more progress than you could ever do by the most violent effort. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 189 (emphasis mine)

Surrendering Our Ideals

Not a few of the devout, wedded to their own ideas, headstrong in their supposed renunciation, far from mortified in their mortifications, are driven to commit many faults through ignorance or forgetfulness of this truth. What illusion they harbour not to realize that self-love spoils and corrupts the most holy of practices! Whoever, out of love of God, shall once renounce will, judgement and ideas shall make great progress in the ways of true and lasting perfection. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence , pg. 223 (emphasis mine)

Are we hanging on to our ideals? In other words, are we clinging to what we think our lives should look like? Or are we accepting all the circumstances that God offers us in an effort to trust in him more completely?

Fr. de Caussade goes on to explain how we can renounce our own desires:

Henceforth use your intelligence and your reason solely to learn what is required of you, and do it with ready cheerfulness, utter trust in God and complete surrender to his mercy. This trust will come to you easily as soon as your one ambition is to do his holy will. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg 223-224 (emphasis mine)

When our lives don’t look like we think they should, we may become discouraged. Unfortunately, discouragement can unwittingly foster our self-love if we try to “fix” things ourselves.

But God is not only asking us to accept our present circumstances as difficult as they may be, but he also asks us to be at peace about our weakness and sin. This is not a license to become complacent about our piety, but rather an opportunity to recognize our wretchedness which causes us to grow in humility.

And so to completely “surrender to his mercy”, we must peacefully lay our feelings of inadequacy at the feet of Jesus, confident in his love and trusting in his desire to heal us in his perfect time.

Quest for Perfection

Uphold yourself in this blessed longing [to be rid of your sin]; offer up your prayers; be patient in your petitions; above all humiliate yourself before God: he it is who will complete the work he has begun in you; there is none other able to perform it.  -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 198 [Fr. de Caussade is writing to a nun] (emphasis mine)

The nun to whom Fr. de Caussade was writing, Sister Marie-Thérèse de Vioménil, may have lamented her weakness and sin, which he responded by saying that only God can work out our perfection, and only God can satisfy all of our desires. While it is a pious practice to remind ourselves of our wretchedness, if we are not at peace waiting on God’s perfect timing to heal us, it can serve our self-love or pride.

Just as our deplorable self-love feeds on praise, it also feeds on fault-finding. If we bemoan our sin and weakness without being in a peaceful state, it only fuels our depraved pride and keeps the focus on ourselves instead of on God. This is what Fr. de Caussade is advising when he offers to Sr. de Vioménil to “offer up…prayers”, “be patient in…petitions”, and “humiliate [herself] before God”.

It is not easy for prideful persons, or human beings, to be in a peaceful state when thinking about our faults. But when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and know that he is with us always, God will offer the grace that we need to wait patiently on him, who is sole healer of all.