Since returning to active ministry after my leg amputation last year, I made a commitment to go to the gym regularly. I need to strengthen certain key muscles in order to have balance when I use my prosthetic leg. My preparation for this commitment to the gym was in working closely with my doctor and also in reviewing my mental state. Our Lord teaches us in Matthew 5:37, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Going to the gym would require me to make sacrifices regarding other things in my life.
When I looked at myself through prayer, I knew that if I was going to embrace the gym, but I needed my “yes” to be a firm “yes” from my core and not a mere pleasantry for my own affective well-being. It is in that moment of saying “yes” and living it out that the virtue of diligence begins to bear fruit. Diligence is a virtue that is so necessary in our times when personal commitments seem to be as thin as a sheet of paper.
Death, Detachment and Diligence
The Greek prefix “di” means “two” or “dual”. The “di” in diligence, therefore, is a stark reminder of what the virtue calls forth from the person. Living the virtue of diligence will always presume a choice between two paths: the path that the person has given his “yes” to and the path he has rejected. This rejection may not be because the other path was a negative but merely a path that is not for him. Diligence will also bring about a sense of grief because it is a type of death, the refusal of the second option.
The Greek is the root of the French suffix “dis”, which means setting something apart. A diligent heart understands that the person has set something apart from other things in order to work and strive for the betterment of the thing, whether it be the person’s relationship to it or the person’s being. For example, when a person chooses to marry another, he “sets apart” his beloved from all others in order to strive for his or her betterment. In that regard, we see how there is again a motif of death in one’s marital relationship; people cannot have the same physical, emotional, spiritual relationship with others as they do with their spouse. There is a starkness to diligence but, coupled with it, there is also a freedom for the heart that allows it to give itself wholly to the thing it has set apart for itself.
Discernment and Diligence
When Jesus gave His “let your yes mean yes” teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, it was a moment in His earthly ministry where He taught the people about who He was and about who we are meant to be in Him. That statement of Christ was (and still is) a challenge for His disciples. Christ’s whole Heart was committed to doing the will of His Father. In His zeal for obedience, we see His example of diligence for us. Whatever we say “yes” to needs to be an act of our whole heart. We are to make a full commitment of the self which through the act of consent is meant to glorify God in our lives, even if it is as small as making one simple act of gratitude a day.
So, where is the challenge? A diligent heart begins to grow when we begin to ponder what it is we wish to commit our heart to in life. Diligence, therefore, calls forth a period of discernment in the heart. As we approach Lent, it asks questions like these: Do I give time to God to discern what practices He desires of me during Lent? Do I simply respond to Lent with a simple list of things to embrace and things to let go? Have I done the necessary work praying over and preparing my heart for my Lenten practices? Before we set our heart on something, we need to give time to listening to the Holy Spirit, so our hearts can hear the whisper of His wisdom.
In His wisdom we will find the beginning of His fruit. The garden of the Holy Spirit, where the Spirit’s fruit is found, is the human heart. Thus, the initial work of diligence – discernment – is a way of preparing the soil of the heart. Offering our “yes” to a choice embraced by the heart, living it out to the full, is a means of continuing the prayer of vulnerability before the Holy Spirit. I say vulnerability because through diligence the heart begins to deliberately live out the fourth line of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” Thus, a diligent heart is always a docile heart because it is open to correction and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Disappointment and Diligence
But we must remember that we are not God. The Holy Spirit, who has come to sanctify us and make us like God, is always working on and in us. It is important to remember we are not God because we will fail, and often. The world is not ours to hold up like Atlas. The Lord is Lord of the world and of our lives. Diligence is a virtue about attention, care, and continual effort. We are not perfect, but throughout the journey of our lives, the Holy Spirit brings about a purity in the heart that guides us to our ultimate perfection in Christ.
Diligence is a means of working alongside the Spirit to cultivate the virtue of purity. Purity is not merely about a cleanliness of the soul and body, it is about the focus of the heart. That is why it is the “pure of heart” in the Beatitudes who will see God, because their heart is focused on seeing His face (Matthew 5:8). Being aware that we may fail in diligence on our journey through life doesn’t mean we should give up before beginning the endeavor.
Even when we fail during our journey of life, we have still grown as a person in our relationship with God, and we are at a different place along our pilgrimage toward the Kingdom. Even though our “yes” may fall short at times, the attitude of attentiveness that is intrinsic to diligence allows the heart to regain the necessary focus to begin its journey again and again. How does this virtue help the heart to begin again? By providing the necessary strength for the act of recommitting the “yes” of the heart with a renewed openness to the zealous fervor offered freely by the Holy Spirit.
By the time this article is released, we will have a few weeks remaining before Lent (which begins on February 26th). Lent is an intense time for the work of the Spirit to bring about the sanctification He desires for us. It is a time when we commit ourselves to a journey of accompaniment with those preparing for entry into the Body of Christ, the Church.
Lent itself is a season for and of diligence because of that accompaniment of others on their respective journeys. In that regard, the virtue of diligence is not a secret work hidden away in the heart but a means of showing others the power of God’s love in the heart. That love is made visible to others through the commitments embraced and lived out fully by a heart open to God’s love. Those verbs “embraced” and “lived out” are incarnated and gain life through the virtue of diligence when a diligent heart is focused on the tender care for the garden of the Holy Spirit, the human heart.
Keep your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the springs of life. ~ Proverbs 4: 23