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)

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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.

We Must Rely on God, Not Others

A mind enlightened by faith inclines the heart to submit to the plans of divine Providence who allows good men to cause each other suffering that they may be detached from one another. On such occasions we have only resignation and self-abandonment to God in which to find our strength. For both of these leave us unaffected by the apparent reasons we have for being perturbed. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 308-309

God wants us to rely solely on him. Not others. Not ourselves. Not this world. He is a jealous God loving us so much and desiring to give us only good things. He wants us with him so very much that he allows his children to suffer — painful as it is for him — so that at the end of this life, we may join him for all eternity in Paradise.

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.

On Practicing the Habit of Peace

As for peace of heart, you must make a habit of seeking, finding and enjoying it in the upper part of the soul, in the apex of the spirit, in spite of the perturbation, rebelliousness and restlessness of the lower and less spiritual part. The latter must be held of no account, since God ignores what happens in it. In St. Teresa’s words it may be called the courtyard of the soul’s inner castle [Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila]. Profit from this precept which all the saints have adopted. Act like a man who, finding himself among the unclean animals and vermin of his castle yard, ascends hastily to the upper rooms with their beautiful decorations and cultured people. You also must ascend into the sanctuary of the soul, and endeavour never to leave it, since it is there God has made his permanent dwelling-place. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 273 (bold emphasis mine)

These words from Fr. de Caussade should give us pause for reflection as we set upon practicing the habit of peace. And we really must make our peaceful state a habit, for if we don’t, all too often, our emotions will overwhelm our senses and we may be inclined, because of our pride, to move away from God.

Whenever we feel the “perturbation, rebelliousness and restlessness” of which Fr. de Caussade writes, we can practice the habit of a peaceful state by praying the following prayer:

My divine king, my great sovereign, it is you who will, or do not will, this thing. For me that is enough: bless you for all things and in all things. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 194, footnote about Sister Anne-Catherine de Preudhomme, who prayed this prayer whatever befell her.

Surrendering Our Wills

O holy detachment! It is this that makes room for God.  O purity, O blessed annihilation, O submission without reserve!  This is what attracts God into the depth of the heart.  Let my faculties be what they will, thou, Lord, art all my good.  Do what thou wilt with this little creature: that he should act, that he should be inspired, that he should be the subject of thy impressions is all one, for all belongs to thee; all, indeed, is thee, from and for thee.  I have nothing more to say to it or to do. Not a single moment of my life is of my own ordering; all belongs to thee, I have neither to add nor subtract, to inquire or reflect: sanctity, perfection, salvation, direction, mortification, is all thy affair, Lord.  Mine to be content with thee and to choose for myself no action or condition, but to leave all to thy good pleasure. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 50 (emphasis mine)

The exercise of our free will to abandon ourselves to God renders the heart capable of receiving and accepting the most holy will of God, wherein we will find our most true and lasting happiness. When, by our free will we abandon ourselves, God directs all of our other faculties, and we can let go of our worries trusting in an all-good God working in and through us for our eternal salvation.

Self-abandonment also moves us to focus on God instead of ourselves. When we are not concerned about our own lives, we can find our purpose in serving others, and by doing so, love God all the more.

A Prayer for Blind Self-Abandonment

My God, if this truth were once for all well known, with what blind self-abandonment should we not submit ourselves to thy divine Providence.  What peace and tranquility of heart we should enjoy in every circumstance, not only regarding external events, but also with reference to our interior states of soul.  Even in cases where the painful vicissitudes through which God makes us pass are a punishment for our infidelities, we should say to ourselves that God has willed it thus by his permissive will,  and we must humbly submit; we should detest our fault and accept its painful and humiliating consequences, as St. Francis de Sales so often advises us.

How many troubles and useless anxieties injurious to our peace of heart and spiritual advancement would not this one principle, rightly understood, dispel!  Shall I never succeed with the help of grace in instilling into your mind and still more into your heart this great principle of faith, so sweet, so consoling, so loving and so pacifying?  -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 121-122 (emphasis mine)

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert or to have mastered blind self-abandonment, however, God has brought me a long way since I began. In the beginning, certain passages would resonate with me, and I would to commit to practice them. Often, though, life got in the way, and it was difficult to practice those habits.

Of course, everything — including self-abandonment — that we try fails when we attempt it on our own.

The turning point came when I began to write passages from the book on a prominent place that I would look to all day.  I’d read the passage, often a prayer, several times a day. We need to ask for the grace of self-abandonment and to be reminded that we are not in control.

Here is one such prayer from Fr. de Caussade:

My God, may all thy most holy intentions be accomplished in me and never my own; may they be accomplished because while infinitely just in themselves, they are also infinitely advantageous for me.  I know that thou canst will only the greatest good of thy creatures so long as they remain submissive to thy orders.  May my own will never be accomplished except when it is in perfect agreement with thine, because otherwise it can only be harmful to me.  If ever, my God, it should happen through ignorance or passion that I persist in desires contrary to thine, may I be disappointed and punished, not by thy justice, by thy pity and great mercy. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg. 122 (emphasis mine)

This prayer not only asks God to help us surrender our lives to him, but it should also instill in us a great confidence in God. For even when we walk through suffering, we must know that God only allows it for the good of our souls.

How We Bind God

Let us rely solely upon his fatherly care; let us surrender ourselves to it utterly for all our temporal and spiritual and even our eternal welfare. For such is true and complete self-abandonment, that binds God to take charge of everything in regard to those who abandon everything to him, thus paying homage to his sovereign dominion, his power, his wisdom, his goodness, his mercy and all his infinite perfections. Amen, Amen. -from Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, pg 303 (emphasis mine)

We “bind God to take charge of everything” in our lives when we completely and utterly abandon ourselves to him.  He is so generous with his help when we surrender that we cannot help but want to give back all that and more, if he would but allow it.

Why Blog About a Book Written in the 18th Century?

Father de Caussade wrote about abandoning ourselves to God through a treatise he wrote and letters written to sisters for whom he was a spiritual director. What does it mean to “abandon ourselves to God?” In short, it means finding peace in all that happens to us and in all that we are — up to and including our sinful natures — because God is working through us in ways that we can’t possibly understand. This is not to condone sin, but to know that God allows and uses sin to draw us ever nearer to Himself.

Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. 

I’m not going to lie to you. This book is nearly 450 pages and the author basically says the same thing over and over and over again. Despite this, however, I have dog-eared many pages, underlined hundreds of lines of text, sectioned off several paragraphs with stars and asterisks, and written my own notes in plenty of margins. 

The author has an uncanny knack for writing the same message but in subtlety different ways, such that one chapter can move you while another chapter won’t make sense to you for many months later, if at all.

Why should I read it if it’s not going to make sense? Good question. If the quotes found on this blog or in the book itself don’t make sense to you, then maybe God is not calling you to read it right now. If that’s the case, maybe pick it up at a later time in your life. That is what happened to me. This book sat on my bookshelf mostly unread because I didn’t understand it for probably ten years.   But since I picked it up again, I haven’t put it back down.

If you feel called, I encourage you to read Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence. It’s a beautiful commentary on how God uniquely works in each of our lives and gives us a mere glimpse of His great and unending love for us.