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.

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)

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.

Trusting in God Instead of Our Merits

The fear of death and the judgement is good, provided it does not go so far as to trouble and disturb you; if it did so it would be an illusion of the devil.  After all, why should you be troubled?  Because you have not yet done what you have not been able to do?  Does God demand the impossible?  Beware here; the point is a very delicate one, for it looks as if there were a desire to acquire merits in order to trust in them.  That is not true confidence which can only be founded on the mercy of God and the infinite merits of Jesus Christ.  Any other confidence would be vain and presumptuous, being based on our own nothingness and I know not what wretched good works that are worthless in the eyes of God.  Without counting in any way on ourselves, we must try to accomplish all that he asks of us and hope only in his goodness and the merits of Jesus Christ his Son.  -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 176 (emphasis mine)

Our works are not our own, save for sin. The things that we are unable to accomplish are not about our abilities or lack of, as much as they are about God working in our lives in a unique and particular way. It is God who gives or takes away talent and ability. He does this not to make us unhappy, but rather to draw us nearer to him. The closer we are to God, the more we focus on him.  He desperately wants us to join him in Heaven, but he knows that we must first seek his kingdom.

 

The Illusion of Self-Reliance

From the time when it is God’s pleasure to impart this clear knowledge of himself in combination with the humility which his blessed grace inspires, we expect nothing further from self but everything from him. We rely no more upon our good works but upon God’s mercy and upon the infinite merits of  Jesus Christ. There you have the true Christian hope which saves our souls. Every other spiritual state, every other spiritual inclination, involves much grave risk to salvation; whereas to hope only in God, to rely only upon God, in and through Jesus Christ, is the hard rock, the firm and lasting foundation that no illusion, self-love or temptation can threaten. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 264-265 (emphasis mine)

When we rely on ourselves, we are not serving God, rather we are serving ourselves. Self-reliance causes us to focus on ourselves, hope in our own talents, and work in vain toward a goal that is self-serving. In contrast, we would do better by focusing on God, giving glory to him for our talents, and working always toward his will.

We must firmly commit to renouncing reliance on ourselves. We can do this by seeking God alone instead of pursuing our own goals. If we remain securely fixed on him, we will accomplish all that he desires. Only then shall we know true happiness in this life.

How Do We Know That We Are Doing God’s Will?

The acquiescence, submission and union of our will with that of God effect our perfection to such a degree that nothing remains for us to do except to hold steadfastly to these in all things, through all things and for all things. This accomplished, all is accomplished. Without this, prayers, austerities, works (even heroic works) and sufferings are nothing in God’s sight, since the one way of pleasing him is in all things to wish only for what he wills. The more involuntary opposition this complete resignation encounters in us, the more merit it has, because of the greater effort and more thorough sacrifice required.  -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 272-273 (emphasis mine)

St. Augustine is quoted as saying, “Love God and do what you please!” When we love God, we desire to do what pleases him.  But how can we always know what is pleasing to God? After all, we may have to make a decision between two good things. But when we desire God’s will, we need not worry whether we are doing his will as long as we are peacefully accepting all that he offers us in our lives. If God is giving us the choice between two good things, then let us pick what we want, for either choice will move us toward God, which is the direction toward which our hearts should be moving.

This may be quite a foreign idea to those of us who like to do the right thing, to be in control, or to not make mistakes. But even here, we can find encouragement in that when our surrender is more difficult, it is also more meritorious.

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.