I was taught that we are all called to live holy Christian lives; to be saints. God does not wish for us to be mediocre, lukewarm Christians, content with just avoiding the obvious mortal sins. Yet He is extremely patient with us as we try to grow, and often we don’t even see our own problems and evil tendencies.
I am going to write about a way in which I failed. This summer, I was almost constantly anxious about some uncertainties and questions in my life, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I did not immediately realize my lack of trust in God and level of attachment.
These two things: distrust and attachments, are probably the most difficult effects of the fall to deal with, because they are so deep in the soul and are not immediately recognized. Even when we recognize them, it’s difficult to fight them. The enemy likes to do anything he can to distance us from God, and both distrust and attachments in the soul are linked to pride. We can easily be stuck in these two faults without even seeing it. Only God’s grace can help us to see these tendencies and help us to overcome them. What follows is just a reflection based on my own mistakes. I am not any authority on the faith and I can’t take credit for any of the ideas, many of which come from books.
Attachments can come in all forms, whether it’s to possessions, money, entertainments, distractions, goals, ambitions, reputation, appearance, feelings, or even holy things we want to do for God. The last is probably one of the most dangerous attachments because it can lead to spiritual pride, and the goodness of what we are attached to prevents us from even noticing the attachment. This good thing to do or to be for God can even be the same that He wants for us, but our motive is wrong and infected by pride. Sometimes, God might allow us to go through difficulties and trials just to see this, where everything we do for Him tends to fail. This is really a great mercy from God, because left to ourselves, we would certainly be lost. In the case of other attachments, God often permits the person to lose the object of their attachment or to fail in their plan.
Attachment in a Christian life is like saying to God: “I love You, but let me have this thing, because without it I can not be happy”. It is placing a condition on God. And sometimes, there can be a fear that God’s will for us might be something else. This leads to a general fear of God’s will, which is as ridiculous as it sounds, yet it can happen.
A person in this situation would always be in interior turmoil and suffering, because they want something very much, they are afraid that God might want something else, and they are unable to let that go. When I struggle with attachments, I intellectually know that I should do God’s will first. This is something that we are taught in catechism.. but I am prevented from truly wanting it with all of my heart and will.
In this way, attachments can lead to distrust in God. At its worst, it can be a distrust in God’s goodness and love for us, which according to various Saints and even revelations to them from Jesus, is one of the most damaging things that can happen spiritually, if not the most damaging.
In order to deal with this distrust, a person can try to think: “I know God’s will is what is best for me. He wants me to be happy. I’m going to try and trust that God’s will would not lead to my unhappiness”. I tried doing this as I struggled with my attachments, but there was one thing I didn’t realize – at times, I was placing limits on God again and on what COULD make me happy. It was still based on my own understanding and my own conditions.
“I know God wants me to be happy, and His will would make me happy, yet I kind of think I know what would do this for me, so I need to trust that God’s will would be the same”. Clearly, this sort of thinking (which is of course not so conscious on the person’s part), is not true abandonment to the Divine Will. It is rather a trust that God’s will would be the same as mine, because clearly I know what is best for me and what isn’t. Put this way, this thinking is just silly!
If we truly love Jesus, we need to put His Will ABOVE our own. Our own will needs to be simply a way to freely respond to God’s will and to love, nothing more. Ideally in a Christian life, self-will should not exist – yet of course, God is very patient with us as we try to fight this and mortify our self will. It is a lifelong effort. As I read the Saints, it was fairly obvious that every moment of their lives was a mortification to self will, and a death to self. It is definitely not easy or pleasant, especially as it reaches the deeper matters in the soul. It can be more difficult to mortify the attachments we have to the good things we want to do for God, rather than resisting that chocolate bar. We are often our own worst enemy in the way of salvation and holiness.
Reflecting on God’s immeasurable love for us can help us to trust in His will and to choose Him first. A human soul is worth more to Him than all the created world, which isn’t able to know and love Him. God has everything, but since He made us with free will, He is waiting for us to choose His Divine Will, which would be our greatest happiness.
If I try to imagine a person who is truly surrendered to God, (and of course I’m not at that point), they would place no conditions on God’s will. They would love God’s will because it is His will, and for no other reason. They would rejoice in doing His will simply because He rejoices in it – not because of how well it matches their own ideas or preferences.
However, when we love God’s will as far as it corresponds to our will, we are not truly loving Him. This fault can be a very hidden one that can remain unseen for a long time. The goal is to keep our joy and peace when God’s will turns out to be different from ours, and then His will becomes our first priority. In the end, according to various spiritual writers, this is what holiness is. Of course, at first we would frequently experience pain in submitting to God’s will, and it’s important to keep trying and not be discouraged!
We would find much joy and peace in our lives if we simply surrendered to the Divine Will, without caring at all what it is. It’s helped me to think about how much God loves me and rejoices in His Will. Spending time reflecting on this in mental prayer can help to develop this virtue, so that we begin to want to do Jesus’ Will in order to bring Him joy. Then, it’s no longer a selfish thing about ourselves, it’s no longer conditional on our own ideas of personal happiness, or for our own benefit. It becomes something that is an act of love, whereas before, we only loved ourselves.
In the diary of St Faustina, a Catholic mystic and Saint, there is a passage where Jesus asks her if she would like Him to create a whole new world for her, which is much more beautiful than this one, where she could live for the rest of her life. She responds with a question, wondering why Jesus is asking this, because she does not want any worlds. Then, she says that she only wants Him, and nothing else. Jesus responds to her, that now He sees that she loves His Will more than life.
In this example, St Faustina gives up perfect happiness on earth because she does not seek happiness for herself, but the perfect accomplishment of Jesus’ will and His own happiness. She proves in her response that she loves Him and not only herself. This response completely destroys any fear or distrust in the soul, because there is no fear in losing what we do not aim for. If we aim only for God’s will, we would never fear it, or anything else.
Reflecting on these ideas, I see how far I am from these virtues and how much distrust and attachment I still have. It is probably a real life-long battle to fight these tendencies in our souls. Thankfully, Jesus really does provide the grace, and increases the grace whenever we correspond to it. Simply saying “Jesus, I trust in You” or “Your Will be done, not mine” in difficult situations, can help to grow in the virtue. (Anyone can do this when it’s easy, but virtue grows in battle).
Our Lord told a priest from last century that an act of surrender is worth more than many prayers. In difficult moments, we can make an act of surrender to God’s will, saying “Jesus, I trust in Your will for me”. Yet in order for this to be an act of love for God, the statement should mean “I trust in Your will for me and rejoice in it because it is Your will, and I love You” – not “I trust in Your will for me because I trust it wouldn’t be something that I think makes me unhappy”. God knows us much better than ourselves 🙂
How do we know what God’s will is?
Catholic teaching distinguishes between God’s direct, and permissive will. His direct will are things He wants, such as things He wants for us to do. His permissive will includes anything that God allows us to happen to us.
It’s a real struggle to fully surrender to both God’s direct and permissive will. If we only submit to His direct will, we would always be discouraged and unable to deal with our sufferings, which God still permits. A full submission to God’s will needs to include both, and to say to God “I trust in Your will for me and surrender to it fully and joyfully, not just in the things You want me to do, but in everything that You allow to happen to me, including suffering.” Taken this way, even suffering becomes a joy, because God’s will alone becomes our joy.
Absolutely everything that happens to us in within God’s permissive will. If He didn’t permit it, it simply wouldn’t happen. Even suffering is within His providence, and this is where our trust can really fail us. I have often wondered, why God permitted something to happen to me, and this wondering is already a form of distrust. It’s best to have a full confidence that God allows things to happen for our good, that He can bring good from evil, that He doesn’t delight in our suffering itself but in the virtue that can come from it, and that our suffering can help other souls. Jesus told St Gertrude in a revelation that when we trust that He has the power, the wisdom, and the goodness to help us, He cannot resist this trust and comes to the soul. This was particularly spoken in the context of fighting temptations. Anything that God allows, He allows with love and goodness, because there is no evil in Him. We don’t always understand at the moment how it can be, but this is simply because our understanding is too little compared to the perfect, infinite Wisdom of God.
Someday we would understand, and rejoice in His Will, and in this life we can rejoice in His Will through faith, even though it is often a dark faith requiring much effort and death to self.