Nostalgia and the Heart

Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe is an amazing book. Here’s the gift that God had waiting for me in its pages this morning:

“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 the 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 to 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 I believe necessary in order to accomplish something beautiful for God, according to the plan of a 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 of 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. Oftentimes 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 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 the 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 of heart; they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).”

Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe

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Control and the New Year

A few months ago I heard a very good homily on sin: the root of sin, according to the preacher, was an insistence on control. This could be control over a person, a situation, or the path of one’s own life. Rather than “thy will be done,” sin is an insistence that “my will be done” no matter what. I have often found that this is the cause of my impatience as well. It stems from my desire to control a certain situation–to hurry a conversation, to stick to my schedule and ignore the needs of others.

I realized something else in the past few months–once a person has asserted complete control over their life, it is at that moment that faith dies. I’ve found it is hardest to keep faith alive when I am in “planning” mode–and by that I don’t mean deciding where to have brunch on the weekend. I can go into a very extreme sort of planning mode in which I make lists of people I need to see, classes I need to take, appointments I need to make, and before I know it, I’ve booked myself an entire year’s worth of activities.

This is part of the reason, I suspect, that diverting from my routine–even during a vacation or around the holidays–can lead to inordinate stress. And even when I try to push the stress away and tell myself it’s not right to worry, it always rears its ugly head in other forms. In the past few weeks, it’s been nightmares, or waking up in the middle of the night worrying about trivial things or events that are several months away.

The only remedy that’s been effective is constant, short bouts of informal prayer (“Lord, help me,” is an easy one). And it does take constant awareness, because as soon as I’ve moved on from one worry I feel like I’m on to the next. I suppose what’s kept me hopeful is the acknowledgement that God can free me from my anxieties and that I don’t have to just accept them as a “part of who I am.”

Anyway–baby steps. Here’s to a happier, healthier, holier 2015.