Anyone who has been living the Christian life for a while has their habits and devotions, which are used as aids along the way. In addition to the Bible, most of us have other reading materials that we use regularly or even daily. One such blessed series of books I use is entitled In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez. These books follow the liturgical year and offer fairly in-depth writings for each day. The purpose of the books is to help the reader enter more deeply into prayer, especially prayer based on the daily readings of the Church. But there is so much more here than simple meditations. These books, which quote widely from popes and theologians, saints and soon-to-be saints, teach the reader how to live the Christian life through simple tips on virtue that anyone can understand.
Every once in a while a book like this will hit me over the head with an “Aha moment” where I can finally see clearly some error in my thinking or living. One such moment happened recently when reading the fourth volume in this series by Fr. Fernandez. He states:
The way we live charity, overcoming sudden ill-temper, making an effort to be warm, good-natured and considerate towards others – these will be important, as will our efforts to finish off the work we have offered to God. … There will be moments of victory and of defeat, of falling and of rising again.
The struggle demands a love that is vigilant and an effective desire to seek God throughout the day. This cheerful struggle is the exact opposite of lukewarmness, which is characterized by carelessness, a lack of interest in seeking God, laziness and sadness in fulfilling our obligations towards God and other people.
This Cheerful Struggle
We all have our struggles. For many people, including me, that struggle involves a chronic illness. Due to this I am almost always tired, often exhausted, frequently sleepy, and sometimes even nodding off at tasks throughout the day. But prior to this “Aha moment,” I had been laboring under the false assumption that this tiredness, even to the point of needing to close my eyes at times, and to needing to say “No” to many activities, is the same as laziness. But through Fr. Fernandez’s writing, the Lord showed me that it is not laziness, but that “this cheerful struggle” is my offering, is my work.
My value as a person is not dependent on my energy level, my ability to work many hours straight, nor my being involved with every activity. My value is being a child of God, and my offering and response in thanksgiving for that gift is “this cheerful struggle.” Taking this mini epiphany to our Lord in prayer, He responded:
Yes, Suellen, why else would I always be telling you, “Selah”? I tell you to be still because your activity is so often out of the wrong motivation, namely, “people pleasing.” Your pace is trying to keep up with others, not to give Me glory. Your efforts are trying to pay back endless debts you feel you’ve incurred. It’s all wrong.
“This cheerful struggle,” not against your circumstances and limitations, but against your faults and failings, is what gives Me honor and glory. Not by working yourself into sickness in imitation of those who have different circumstances and limitations, but by cheerfully struggling against your root sin and all of the sins that spring up out of it, you give your right offering. “Cheerful” because you know I love you now, and am not in any hurry to see you accomplish perfection, but rather, I am happy, so happy to accompany you along this path at the pace I have given you. This pace allows for smelling the flowers, spotting the birds, feeling the sun on your face, and for praising Me in all of it.
Yes, I delight in watching My racers use their gifts to run swiftly and far. But you are not one of My racers. You are different, but no less valuable. You see things others miss at their God-given pace. It is your pride that wishes to be and do like them, to not be seen as lazy or snobbish or whatever you are imagining people see you as. It is this pride that you struggle against precisely by cheerfully struggling at My pace that I have given you.
Pride is constantly referential, constantly comparing its efforts against others. But humility simply knows its place and takes it. Your place, My little one, is the snail’s path, at the edge of the trail, giving way to the swift runners, cheering them on, but not trying to be like them.
This cheerful struggle, right here within your own circumstances and limitations, is your pathway to holiness. It is different, not less nor greater, than other paths. The differences are not important, except to expose your sinful tendencies to yourself. With those tendencies exposed, you may proceed along My path for you, cheerfully struggling against them, not concerning yourself with results or destinations.
What the “Aha” Means and Doesn’t Mean
In this little “word” the Lord gave me through Fr. Fernandez’s writing, I realized in a new and deeper way that by accepting ourselves, our limitations and our circumstances, even as we struggle against our sinful tendencies, we follow our path to holiness.
We cannot try to be what we are not in order to people please, to justify ourselves, or to try to pay back a debt incurred by sin that only Jesus can pay, and has indeed paid once and for all on the Cross. Our participation in the Sacraments of the Church avail us of that tremendous and eternal grace. We are simply called to cheerfully correspond to what He has done for us in the little ways He gives us in each present moment, according to our own limitations and circumstances.
This “Aha moment” is not meant to allow us to give into our root sin, nor let us “off the hook” for involvement with people or anything we find unpleasant. We are still called to our own path of holiness which does not allow for laziness, lukewarmness or negligence, but rather calls us to persevere in our own cheerful struggle, not comparing our efforts or our results to those around us.
The duties of our state in life which we are called to persevere in regardless of our circumstances and limitations will themselves lead us to struggle against our “root” or “dominant” sin. A root or dominant sin is simply one of the three “biggies” that befall all of us: pride, vanity and sensuality. Spiritual Direction, an amazing Catholic resource, has a wonderful series of articles and podcasts on identifying and working on root or dominant sin. When I started using this resource I strongly identified with all three sins! However, through prayer I could sense which area Jesus wanted me to work on, to cheerfully struggle against, at that time. Using this program, as well as employing the great Ignatian gift of the Daily Examen is a simple, little method of the spiritual life for little strugglers like me.
With the dominant sin of pride gently exposed by Jesus, and through prayer in the wake of this “Aha” moment on This Cheerful Struggle, several points came to the fore:
- You cannot be anyone except who you truly are.
- Do not expect others to be like you, but let them be Jesus’ racers if that’s who He has created them to be. Accept with humility that they are better at some things than you are.
- Tiredness is not the same as laziness, but it is also not an excuse not to cheerfully struggle.
- Pushing past sensible limits for your particular health or circumstance is not heroic sanctity, but pride.
- Stop imagining what people are thinking about you. It’s none of your business anyway.
- Glorify God exactly in who you are now. Maybe He will heal you; maybe He will make you more contemplative; maybe he will change your limitations and circumstances. But right now you are called to cheerfully struggle against your root sin instead of against your circumstances and limitations.
- Cheerful struggle is humility. Humility is knowing your place and taking it.
In the end, for us to impotently struggle against our limitations and circumstances is useless. God is given more glory, and we are given much more peace, by our cheerful struggle to do this moment, this life to the best of our current ability, by God’s grace. We must trust that all results are within His Providence, His Holy Will. Our pathway is different from everyone else’s, not more or less valuable, nor more or less correct, just different.
As little ones under God’s blessing, we are given another enormous aid: our Blessed Mother. She always sees us as her little children and is willing and waiting to help those who run to her. By remaining tethered to her apron by means of the rosary and other devotions to her, she will help us to remain cheerful, to accept our limitations and to persevere in our struggle against all that is in us that is not of God. She will always lead us to Jesus.
Mary our Queen and Mother, help us, your little ones, to persevere our whole life-long in this cheerful struggle against all that is in us that keeps us from perfect union with your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Help us to accept who we are, because we know whose we are, and to give Him glory by our perseverance along the pathway He has chosen for our lives. Amen.