On Sundays, I usually replace normal prayer time with spiritual reading. It’s a bit more relaxed (as befits a Sunday), I can have coffee and cigarettes while I do it (I don’t think Jesus minds), and it’s always wonderfully worthwhile. Lately I have been reading Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity, and keeping a Bible and my journal nearby.

Last Sunday’s session yielded this journal entry, which I tried to expand into a post, but it ballooned out to a bazillion words and lost all coherence. So here’s the entry itself, with minimal editing so that it has some chance of making sense to somebody besides me. If this works out, maybe I’ll make a habit of it.

In the struggle of the human mind for more light, infallibility, whether of Church or Pope, saves the mind no trouble, does for the mind nothing that the mind could do for itself.1

This principle is true not only with respect to the way the Holy Spirit guides the Church as a whole, but also with respect to the way He guides individual people.

In, for example, my quest for healing and wholeness, it is utterly required that I expend every effort that a human being can expend — bring all of my natural powers to bear on the matter.

What is not required is that I worry about whether I will be successful. This is what it means to have the help of God, and to trust God: not that He will do anything for me that I could do for myself, but that He will see to the results.

And that takes a great deal of the sting out of it. It is hard to work when you are unsure as to whether your work will be in vain. It is easier, much easier, when you don’t have to worry about that part.

This has very much to do with something Anthony Bloom says about prayer:

It is absolutely pointless to ask God for something which we ourselves are not prepared to do. If we say ‘O God, make me free from this or that temptation’ while at at the same time seeking every possible way of falling to just such a temptation, hoping now that God is in control, that He will get us out of it, then we do not stand much chance.2

At first one is tempted to ask: “Then what difference does it make whether I pray for the thing or not?” But we are not praying that the task be done for us — only that our efforts be guided and brought to their proper fruition.

1 Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity, p. 252.
2 Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, p. 64.

21 thoughts on “Journal: Grace Does Not Destroy Nature

  1. Gabriel

    I wish I could feel that way, or perhaps think that way is a better way of putting it. I don’t know how to not care about my success rate, or however one ought to phrase that; and in fact I’ve honestly resigned the hope of chastity. It’s too exhausting to fight that hard for something I have no guarantee of getting even if I do fight for it.

    But I’m glad you are. Even if I disagreed with the Church’s teaching (which I do not) I would still admire the moral fiber and self-command it takes even to try. I am glad you’re here and talking about this.

    Reply
    1. Ann

      Gabriel,
      “have no guarantee of getting even if I do fight for it.”
      You have the guarantee of getting it partially, some of the time.
      don’t you think a mixture of failure and success is worth something? worth more thatngiving into failure?
      Like in a human reklationship, it has bad moments, but the good moments are worth it.
      So, the good moments in our relatinshiop with God, that is, the moments in his grace, having received His Mercy, our souls cleaned in His grace are worth it even if we know there will also be the bad moments of sin and failure.

      Though the specific thing that is probably helping Steve, rather the specific person, is probably Our Lady, Mary.
      She’s helped me lots of times (kept me from suicide, and that’s just one thing out of many.)

      Reply
  2. Peter Shaw

    It may be that the victory is not in the outcome, but in the willingness to be true to what you know is right — to keep fighting and not give up, even when (maybe especially when) the outcome is known in advance.

    Reply
  3. DanTheMan

    Dear Steve,

    As I’ve said before, I think that as Christians, we can “agree to disagree” in a spirit of unity. My beloved Mom (now deceased for almost three years) used to implore me to “stop thinking so much.” (This was not in response to my SSA, to which [once I realized it] she was absolutely nonplussed about and added that she was glad I never worried about it…)

    Maybe you need to just relax a little. You seem like an awfully introspective guy, so maybe take a little break. Somebody said, “While the unexamined life may not be ideal, the overly examined life might be unbearable.” Perhaps something worth thinking about. Just a thought.

    I pray for you and all who find SSA a struggle, rather than a gift, that your burdens be lightened in a way that you can live with. It’s my belief (although I know it’s not shared by many who read this blog — remember the “agree to disagree in Christian unity” part, guys…) that we were wondrously created by a God who loves us just the way we are.

    On another note, I’m headed off tomorrow for the SE Conference of the United Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama. Prayers warmly appreciated (and freely offered) that we may all find peace and love — as God has ordained for all of us.

    Reply
  4. TheGafster

    Steve, at times we often strain against God, because what we often believe we know what’s best for us. But all the while, we fail to consider what he wants. Offer it up! All the hurts, all the resentments, all the loneliness, everything. Place it all in God’s hands. Do it His way, and see what happens!

    Reply
  5. RJ

    I’m not sure if many have heard of Acceptance and Committment therapy (ACT), but it is a new development (based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) that emphasizes the role of acceptance of one’s thoughts and feelings, particularly negative ones. By acceptance, therapists like Steven Hayes do not mean we give in and act on the thoughts and feelings, but merely see them as simply mental creations, realities that are other than our true selves. Important in this type of therapy is this concept of “fusion”, that we unconsciously “fuse”with our thoughts and feelings and take them on as our identity. ACT teaches that we can objectively distance ourselves from our thoughts and feelings by giving them mental space (“expansion”) (rather then repress or fight them, which only makes them stronger; “what you resist, persists”) and then making a choice to act based on your values. I think this would be most useful for SSA because it would help people feel less fearful of their SSA feelings, and empower them to act according to their values. So, if a guy sees another attractive guy and feels a pull towards him, he can say, “I am having the feeling of attraction towards this guy”, rather than say “I am attracted to this guy”, and by doing so he gives himself the space to make a choice about what to do next. Hope this makes sense, but it has helped me…

    Reply
  6. Aaron

    Will God deliver us from something we are not willing to do ourselves? I believe the difference is what is sinful and what is an addiction. If it is truly just our cross in life we are struggling with or in this case not struggling with than no, God will probably not deliver us from it. Although, He has been known to knock some people off their horse and give them instant conversion from sin. St. Paul went through this on the road to Damascus. The instant conversion didn’t come easy either. Remember he was left blind for a while and also talked about his own personal thorn that the Lord would not take from his side.

    I often struggle with letting God do His thing in His time and when am I personally called to do something in His time. That does not mean I can keep putting myself in the way of sin and think God will save me. There are consequences to our actions and even inaction. I consider not moving ourselves from the near occasion of sin an inaction and of course I believe can be sinful in itself. An example of this is when we are watching something on the television and the show moves on to the next one which is nothing more than some soft porn called and R movie. Sometimes I am not sure of you but I often leave it play out thinking it will get better.

    It’s like I tell my daughters who are now above 18 when they say dad there is no reason to block mtv on the tv anymore we are adults. I tell them I didn’t just block those type of channels for them but for my soul too.

    Reply
  7. Aaron

    If you are still struggling with something hard remember we all do. Saints are just those who fell and got up again. The other thing most sins of the flesh especially feel good for a short time and that makes them so enticing. Ask the Lord to give you the urge to change before you ask the Lord to change you. We are in this with the Lord.

    Reply
  8. Gabriel

    @ Ann: I appreciate the encouragement; but I don’t know that I could honestly say “Yes” to the question of whether the momentary victories are worth the fight. Because it’s the fight that is exhausting, not the failures. The failures, precisely because they mean not fighting myself, because they mean ceasing to do something that I am already tired of doing when I open my eyes in the morning — those, relatively speaking, are moments of relief. The victories have their precious few moments of joy, and perhaps that will bring me back, one day — though I have no right to count on it. But the victories are not rest, not peace. Or if they are, they are in such a way that I can’t sense it or enjoy it.

    @ Dan: Certainly we can agree to disagree. But I think it’s worth saying that the thing we disagree on is whether God takes pleasure in homosexuality; there is no disagreement here over whether He loves us, homosexual or heterosexual or anything in between (or outside) the two. By all means take the position that homosexuality is a positive good, if you think that position true. But don’t base it exclusively on the doctrine that God is love (true — essential, central — though that is). I’m rereading “A Grief Observed” at present, and C. S. Lewis wisely and soberly says that if God’s goodness is inconsistent with causing or allowing us to suffer, then either He is not good or does not exist.

    Reply
    1. Craig Edward

      Gabiel,

      With all due respect to C.S. Lewis and having gone through months of stuggling to believe God exists after reading about a particular suffering someone endured (and having written my S.T.L thesis on the Church’s theology of suffering and then did much further reading__this crisis of faith was particularly painful to me) there is a third answer besides the two you quote from C.S.L. It is that in thinking about or trying to figure out why God allows suffering we are using a finite mind to comprehend God who is infinite. This answer may not help you at all but it is true. The point of this is that our doing this can really exhaust our minds. Jade them as Father Hopkins, S.J. put it. And it is so trying and suffering people are not helped one bit by our doing this. For me only trusting God and not trying to understand His ways regarding this issue save my faith and sanity. Along with this I remind myself of how I allow evil by buying more books on Amazon rather than sending the money to feed the starving in Africa. But my main point (just trying to be helpful to you) is trust. My late Father who often quoted bits of poetry (and Shakespeare) would “recite” the end of a poem stating, “Trust Him when dark doubts asail thee…Trust Him when to simply trust Him is the hardest thing of all. For me and my finite mind it helped. It ended the endless rounds of thinking and seeking answers and the exhaustion. “Leave off thoughts awhile” wrote Father Hopkins, S.J. I intend to leave off, as best I can thinking about this issue forever.

      May Jesus bless you. Craig Edward

      Reply
  9. DanTheMan

    Gabriel,
    I’m no Biblical scholar, but am familiar with the “clobber passages” used to characterize same sex relations as sinful. I don’t want to debate those here, as I don’t think it would be productive.

    But I believe Christ delivered a message a hope of liberation for all, for erring on the side of compassion, rather than legalisms. I also believe God gave us minds and the scientific method to come to new understandings (and I’m not implying that anyone who disagrees with me has “no mind”).
    I think God would be rather disappointed if we didn’t make use of the gifts God bestowed upon us.

    That includes research into the origins of SSA. I believe the weight of the evidence suggests that they are constitutional, emerge very early, and are largely consciously immutable. Which brings me to this question: why would God endow an estimated 5-10% of the population with SSA, only to forbid them to ever act on those feelings of love and attraction?

    As I’ve said in a previous post, I think that the “environmental” factors often projected to “cause” SSA are “effects” rather than cause.

    I hope that those struggling with SSA will come
    to find their sexual orientations an opportunity for growth, rather than a cause for despair and loneliness.

    But I realize that the form or fashion that “growth” will assume will vary between us. And that’s as it should be. I admire the moral integrity of those who, unable to reconcile their SSA with their deeply held religious beliefs, choose to live a celibate life — even though that’s not the choice I made. But I do respectfully ask anyone contemplating entering a ministry to “fix” or “change” their orientation to think very carefully before doing so. How will you feel when you “fail” in this endeavor? Medical research suggests depressed — with no less SSA than when you began the process…

    Reply
  10. Gabriel

    Dan,

    I have quite as much distaste for ex-gay ministries as you do, honestly. I do not categorically discount the claims of those who assert that they ceased to be homosexual and became heterosexual; people do change, in attractions and everything else. But it doesn’t interest me even in itself, and what I know of them is extraordinarily unappealing to me.

    Nor do I much care for the “clobber passages.” But I don’t want to discuss them either. What is, I think, at issue is the supposition that because something occurs in nature, it has been willed by God and is therefore good.

    I find this very shaky; in fact, I think that if taken to its fullest extent it could make nonsense of the doctrine that God is good, in any meaningful sense of the word. Homosexuality doesn’t make me find it shaky — but genetic predispositions to autism, or alcoholism, or sociopathy, or suicidal depression do. That such things are so often intractable does not reconcile us to them, or cause us to see them as gifts from God.

    That isn’t to say that they can’t be accepted and turned into something beautiful, and the same thing is true of being gay. But that is if they are accepted as crosses — to merely accept suicidal depression, for instance, as something good and desirable in itself, is a recognizably bad thing. (I don’t find the case against homosexuality nearly so clear as that; I accept that such acts are bad solely because I assent to the authority of the Church — I would never have known on my own.) Now, the mere fact that one could use that argument to defend things nobody wants to defend doesn’t prove that homosexuality is bad; but if one wishes to prove it good, a better argument is needed.

    Reply
  11. DanTheMan

    Gabriel,

    Homosexuality was once, in fact, characterized as “sociopathy” and diagnosed as such in the DSM-II. Thousands of lives were ruined, jobs were lost, not because of anything inherent in SSA, but because of humankind’s egregious pronouncement of same.

    Fortunately, empirical re-examination of the issue (by psychologist Evelyn Hooker) led organized psychiatry to revisit the issue, with data — rather than visceral reactions — and concluded that “homosexuals” were no more likely to manifest any psychopathology than heterosexuals. Perhaps all the more remarkable in light of the societal disdain — promulgated, in part, by “religion.” So comparing SSA to autism, alcoholism, etc. falls flat and, frankly, is rather offensive. SSA cannot be scientifically characterized as pathological, although some theologians continue to do so.

    God gave humans the right to exercise free will.
    So one may choose to live their life obeying the dictates of faith. Believe it or not, that’s what I try to do — to live authentically and responsibly explore what value the gift of SSA holds for me.
    I pray for those struggling against SSA — whether via attempting to become an “ex gay” or leading a celibate life — that they will not succumb to self-hate, which is as corrosive to the soul as bleach. I hate to think of anyone (including myself) looking back at the end of life with regret, wondering “what might have been,” but can no longer be…

    May all who struggle find true peace and love!

    Reply
  12. Gabriel

    Dan,

    I’m sorry to have offended you. It wasn’t at all my intention to equate homosexual attractions with, well, anything that I mentioned — I brought them up, not for that reason, but merely to illustrate by analogy that the fact that something exists doesn’t settle the question of whether it is good. The analogy was certainly not meant as an equivalency. Admittedly, I trust the Church when she tells me that, in the case of homosexuality, it isn’t good; but I would also go out of my way to say that I don’t think homosexuality is as disagreeable as any of the things I mentioned — either subjectively or objectively. In fact, subjectively speaking, I don’t find it to be disagreeable at all, and I don’t think anybody’s obliged to. I agree with you, by the way (as does the Catechism) that self-hatred is frightfully self-destructive and absolutely wrong — “corrosive” is exactly the right word — and should have no place in the Christian life. We have no business being less merciful with ourselves than God is. :)

    I, too, have some acquaintance with the history of homosexuality in the psychiatric (and, for that matter, criminal) disciplines. I agree that the responses to it of seventy years ago and longer were barbaric, and am equally glad they have been abandoned. Nor do I have the smallest sympathy with people who attempt to demonstrate the wrongness of homosexuality by statistical analyses linking it to depression, pedophilia, &c., a tactic that I find both irrelevant and disgusting.

    In fact I’d say I have a lot to thank the LGBT movement for — not least the fact that I can say who and what I am in public without having to be frightened. (Not that everybody has to come out, it’s a very personal decision; but I’m rather a loudmouth :) .) I had, also, meant to thank you for respecting the choices of those who accept the Church’s teachings in this regard — one of my pet peeves even when I was a gay activist was a failure to consider things from other perspectives, and to repsect other people’s right to do so, among fellow activists. I don’t think that habit to be more prevalent in the LGBT community than anywhere else, but I happened to run into it there, and I am glad you don’t exhibit it.

    Though I disagree with your conclusions, I don’t find it at all difficult to believe that you are perfectly sincere and doing your level best to follow God in the midst of this. (The idea that people must be dishonest because they don’t agree with us is a silly one, isn’t it?) Thank you for your prayers, and I will pray for you too.

    Reply
  13. Devra

    …it is utterly required that I expend every effort that a human being can expend — bring all of my natural powers to bear on the matter.

    What is not required is that I worry about whether I will be successful. This is what it means to have the help of God, and to trust God: not that He will do anything for me that I could do for myself, but that He will see to the results.

    Wow! Well put, and applicable to just about everything!

    Reply
  14. DanTheMan

    Dear Gabriel (and Steve),

    Thank you, Gabriel, for your heartfelt words. I think this will be my last post, because I think I may be distressing people more than I am engaging (and nothing you said, Gabriel, led me to this conclusion). I admire the moral fortitude of those who embrace celibacy if their religious or moral perspective holds that SS-behavior (ironically, I do like the SS acronym, as not everybody with SSA is “homosexual” and certainly not “gay”) is inconsistent with their beliefs. I think Father Harvey was very wise and compassionate in establishing a ministry of support and fellowship for such folks.

    I would urge those with SSA to not “blame” ourselves or our parents for our propensities. Research indicates that neither you nor your parents had anything to do with it. Please banish all guilt. It’s needless and doesn’t do any good.

    At the same time, please also love and pray for your “brothers and sisters” who made a different choice than you. You’re right, Gabriel, that the LGBT community can be strident and closed-minded. When I became a part of the community, I was viewed less than favorably by some (but by no means by all) for being Christian, for being bisexual, and for certain political views I hold.

    But, remember, hurting people (try to) hurt others. So there are things I’ve encountered in the community, such as ageism, misogyny, substance abuse, and, sadly, the trivialization of sexuality, that I don’t much care for. These things are not inherent to SSA, but rather reflect the very real psychic damage intolerance can foster.

    I also hope those struggling with SSA will not work against basic human rights (e.g., anti-bullying policies in school, employment non-discrimination).
    One need not be sexually active to be victimized (only perceived as SSA). And, as Christians, I hope we all abhor the reality of a child perceived as “effeminate” being psychologically or physically assaulted, or the notion that one can be denied a job or housing because they are perceived as (or actually are) SSA.

    Lastly, I would respectfully ask that persons struggling with SSA not enter a “reparative” program. There’s simply no credible scientific data suggesting that these programs work (as you likely know, Dr. Spitzer has recently apologized for his “ex gay” study). Even Freud said that the chance of changing from homosexual to heterosexual is about as likely as the reverse. You’re are apt to spend a lot of money for nothing, and, more importantly, to emerge feeling like a “failure,” with perhaps irreparable harm to your self-esteem. Yes, an SSA woman who eschews makeup can be given a “makeover” and an SSA man who hates sports can be taught how to play baseball, but will this change a deeply ingrained orientation? I don’t believe so.

    Believe it or not, I wish there was a “magic pill” for those distressed by their SSA. But there’s not — and I don’t think medical science should dedicate valuable resources to creating one, given we’re battling cancer, heart disease, and, yes, HIV. I think the best we can do is view our SSA as an opportunity for growth, whether it be continued spiritual fortitude or seeking, as I have, new life experiences. Or both (actually I hope I’ve done that…).

    I pray for all with SSA that they will find the right path for them, and I welcome (and could certainly use…) your prayers. For we “all are one in Christ.”

    Reply

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