Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart
One of the most beautiful expressions in the Bible of confidence and abandonment into the Hands of God is Psalm 23:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
In verdant pastures He gives me repose.
Beside restful waters He leads me;
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths,
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of death,
I fear no evil; for You are at my side
With Your rod and Your staff
that give me courage.
You spread a table before me
In the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me,
All the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever and ever!
We would like to come back for a few moments to this affirmation of the Bible, which is ultimately surprising, that God leaves us wanting for nothing.
This will serve to unmask a temptation, sometimes subtle, which is very common in the Christian life, one into which many fall and which greatly impedes spiritual progress.
It concerns precisely the temptation to believe that, in this situation which is ours (personal, family, etc.), we lack something essential and that because of this, our progress, and the possibility of blossoming spiritually, is denied us.
For example, I lack good health, therefore I am unable to pray as I believe it is indispensable to do. Or my immediate family prevents me from organizing my spiritual activities as I wish. Or, again, I don’t have the qualities, the strength, the virtue, the gifts that I believe necessary in order to accomplish something beautiful for God, according to the plan of the Christian life.
I am not satisfied with my life, with my person, with my circumstances and I live constantly with the feeling that as long as things are such, it will be impossible for me to live truly and intensely. I feel underprivileged compared to others and I carry in me the constant nostalgia of another life, more privileged, where, finally, I could do things that are worthwhile.
I have the feeling, according to Rimbaud’s expression, that “the real life is elsewhere,” elsewhere than in the life that is mine. And that the latter is not a real life, that it doesn’t offer me the conditions for real spiritual growth because of certain sufferances or limitations.
I am concentrated on the negatives is my situation, on that which I lack in order to be happy. This renders me unhappy, envious and discouraged and I am unable to go forward. The real life is elsewhere, I tell myself, and I simply forget to live.
Often times it would take so little for everything to be different and for me to progress with giant steps: a different outlook, a view of my situation which is one of confidence and hope (based on the certitude that I will lack nothing.) And then doors would open to me of unhoped-for possibilities for spiritual growth.
We often live with this illusion. With the impression that all would go better, we would like things around us to change, that the circumstances would change. But this is often an error. It is not the exterior circumstances that must change; it is above all our hearts that must change.
They must be purified of their withdrawal into themselves, of their sadness, of their lack of hope: Happy are the pure in heart; they shall see God (Matthew 5:8). Happy are those whose hearts are purified by faith and hope, who bring to their lives a view animated by the certitude that, beyond appearances to the contrary, God is present, providing for their essential needs and that they lack nothing.
If they have that faith, they will indeed see God: they will experience that presence of God which will accompany them and guide them. They will see that many of the circumstances that they thought negative and damaging to their spiritual life are, in fact, in God’s pedagogy, powerful means for helping them to progress and grow.
St. John of the Cross says that “it is very often the case that just when the soul believes itself lost that it gains and profits most.” This is very true.
Our minds are sometimes so clouded over by that which is not going well, by that which (according to our own particular criteria!) should be different in our situations, that we forget the positive.
Moreover, we are unable to profit from any aspect of our situations, even the aspects that only appear to be negative, in order for us to draw closer to God, to grow in faith, love and humility.
That which we lack is, above all, the conviction that “the love of God turns to profit all that He finds in me, the good as well as the bad” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus, inspired by St. John of the Cross). However many imperfections we may have, rather than lament them and try to rid ourselves of them at any price, they could be splendid opportunities to make progress – in humility as well as in confidence in God and His mercy-and thus in saintliness.
The fundamental problem is that we employ too much of our own criteria as to what is and what is not good and we don’t have enough confidence in the Wisdom and Power of God.
We don’t believe that He is capable of utilizing everything for our good and that never, under any circumstance, would He leave us lacking in the essentials – that is to say, lacking anything that would permit us to love more.
Because, to grow or to enrich one’s spiritual life is to learn to love. Many of the circumstances that I consider damaging could, in fact, be for me, if I had more faith, precious opportunities to love more: to be more patient, more humble, more gentle, more merciful and to abandon myself more into the Hands of God.
Let us then be convinced of this and it will be for us a source of immense strength: God may allow me to occasionally lack money, health, abilities and virtues, but He will never leave me in want of Himself, of His assistance and His mercy or of anything that would allow me to grow unceasingly ever closer to him, to love Him, to love Him more intensely, to better love my neighbor and to achieve holiness.
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