“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.”
When you think about your hopes and dreams, what do they tend to look like? What do you tend to really, sincerely, pray for more – for success in careers and relationships and the achievement of your own goals in life, or for an increase in virtues such as humility, service, and detachment (that is, being poor in spirit)?
To speak for myself at least, it always ends up being far too easy to seek the first above the second. I may have piously prayed for humility and detachment – but more often than not, in my heart, I’ve desired comfort, desired the easy road. And though in prayer I’ve asked God to lead me in His will, in practice, I’ve desired for my own plans to work out far more than for the often-uncomfortable working-out of God’s will.
But now, coming forth from Pentecost and having once again invited the Holy Spirit to come and breathe His New Life into our lives, we must to come face to face with this dilemma.
Those comforts, those career aspirations, those multifold plans of ours – to put it frankly, those worldly desires of ours – are strikingly opposed to the desires of the Spirit. To think that we can seek our worldly desires, while also praying and hoping for our heavenly desires, is to simply be fooling ourselves. The fact is: these two worlds are at war! To try and keep both the one and the other inevitably results in leading a double life, living a hypocrisy.
That said, this opposition may explain why we often find God’s answers to our prayers both unexpected and frustrating. Instead of performing a certain task you’d been assigned up-to-snuff, you’d made some mistakes and were called out on them. Instead of having the words to say that time you were challenged on your faith, you stumbled and become entirely unconvincing. You cried out to God – why did You let me fall? Why didn’t You let me do this thing right for You? Instead, you were humbled, you were humiliated.
Having entered the Carmelite cloister at a young age and with little experience in practical work, St. Therese of Lisieux had a steep learning curve, making many mistakes as she tried to perform her duties and chores. However, in response to so many little failures and subsequent reprimands, St Therese wrote: “I thank you, Mother, for not having spared me; Jesus knew very well that His little flower was so frail that without the life-giving waters of humiliation she would never take root; and this priceless blessing she owes to you.” (Story of a Soul, Chapter 9)
She saw what can be so hard for us, blinded by our own frustrated goals, to see. She saw the events of her life with eyes of the Spirit, with a “heaven’s-eye-view” instead of a “world’s-eye-view”. It’s according to this heaven’s-eye-view that Mother Teresa, too, was able to say: “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”
Growth in the New Life, the life that lasts and that God has called us to above all else, must take priority over all else. If we’re honest in our desire to seek God’s will, if we really want to learn to love as He loves and witness to His Gospel, we need to learn to let go of our need to make it look like worldly success. With our eyes open to the Spirit, we’ve got to let those other desires take a back seat, and go where He leads us: humility, detachment, and always, always – love.
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