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Here are four axioms for your consideration.

1. Misery is not necessarily an indication that you are not doing the will of God.

Sometimes we suffer because we are doing the wrong thing and going in the wrong direction. On the other hand, sometimes suffering is a sign that the devil is displeased and wants to make you hurt: a good thing. Or sometimes suffering is a sign that God is pleased and wants to make you even more alive: a good thing.

2. Misery is not necessarily an indication that you are doing the will of God.

On the other hand, sometimes we suffer because we have done stupid, bad things, and stupid, bad things always end up hurting us. So sometimes you have to just take your punishment and say, Yup, I deserve this. Sometimes it isn’t even a punishment, but just a natural consequence of the stupid, bad thing you’ve done. If you drink fifteen beers and are hung over the next morning, it’s not because God is punishing you or testing you and it’s not a Dark Night Of the Soul. It’s because you are an idiot.

3. Contentment is not necessarily an indication that you are doing the will of God.

Lots of people are content. Saints, I suppose, are perfectly content at least some of the time. Sinners who have gotten very good at ignoring their consciences, I suppose, are perfectly content at least some of the time. Maybe you are content because everything really is going all right. On the other hand, maybe you are content because you have been lulled to sleep, when you should be wakeful.

4. Contentment is not necessarily an indication that you are not doing the will of God.

Skip this one if it makes no sense to you. If, however, you are the sort of person who starts to worry when he starts to feel good — because you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself when you don’t have some terrible agony to offer up — maybe just try being content with being content. Enjoy it while it lasts; maybe the Lord’s giving you a break. You probably need it!

To sum up: feeling are a pretty unreliable way to tell how well you’re doing.

If not feelings, what then?

Prayer, I suppose, charity, a steadfast heart. Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, and you won’t have to worry about any of this. Or, as Padre Pio said: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.

And it doesn’t hurt to remember: “the will of God” might not be the kind of thing you think it is.

15 thoughts on “Four Axioms

  1. Christine

    This was a great post. I remember my difficulty with being content because I thought holiness meant enduring as much suffering as possible. My spiritual director probably saved my life when he suggested that I look into antidepressants because he thought my problem was biochemical and not primarily spiritual. Now that the meds are working (for the moment; over the past six years I’ve had good and bad times on my meds), I am relatively content and so glad that I got over my belief that suffering was the sole indicator of holiness and of doing God’s will.

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  2. Alex

    Steve, I just wanna say that you’re awesome. You may tire of hearing that, or it may sound vague and not very personal. But you’ve been a light of Christ to me (I actually emailed you once–I was one of those people who thought I was being super sneaky using a psuedonym and then left my real name visible in my settings, ha–and I appreciated your response btw), and surely to others as well. You’re a credit to humanity. And you quoted Calvin & Hobbes in one of the more recent posts, so bonus points for that, too.
    I always smile when I see that one of the blog’s tags is “badassery” because I like that word; please believe me when I say that you are most definitely in the high ranks of this generation’s inspiring badasses. I’m grateful to God for your voice–make sure you are, too!

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    1. Mark from PA

      You are going to think me queer Alex but as a young person I never heard that word much less used it. I work mostly with women so I actually never really hear that word. For some reason it is a word that I couldn’t actually bring myself to say. (You are allowed to smile folks.) I have to admit also that in my life I have never ever given anyone the finger. I don’t think I even knew what it was until I was in college. I suppose I am somewhat shy.

      Reply
  3. Sarah

    I fell into a depression “hole” over this fall which for me is usually accompanied by a feeling of desolation. And it was miserable, and my poor priest had to listen to me crying all the time, and I was mad at God, but I didn’t even know if I really believed in Him anymore, or at least, I didn’t know if I believed He was good and caring. And I wondered what I must be doing wrong to have to deal with this.

    And then, after a while, the clouds kind of parted, and I feel better again, and am able to pray again, and even be enthusiastic about it.

    I have had those periods of depression and desolation before (which have been even worse and longer lasting than this one) and whenever it started abating, I would think, “Okay, it’s over. I must be on the right track and I won’t have to deal with it ever again unless I really screw up.”

    But this time, though it was milder than other times, I feel like I learned the most from it. I think I understand now that these things just kind of happen, and I don’t HAVE to understand why, and it’s not necessarily because I’m doing something wrong. I just have to know, next time, that I’ll get through it again, and that the worst thing I can do is stop praying. But I’m enjoying the feeling of contentment, and I’m trying to suck as much spiritual good out of it as I can before God “withdraws” again.

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  4. Searcheresse

    Whene I get depressed because of myself and several reasons more:), I come here. I hope you’ll write a book one day…
    Happy Christhmas and New Year to all here!

    Reply
  5. Grace

    This post reminds me of Thomas Merton’s quote, “God I have no idea where I am going, I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You in fact please you. And I hope that desire in all that I am doing, and I know that if I do this will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death I will not fear, for You are ever with me and You will never leave to face my perils alone. Amen”

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  6. Ruth

    I’ve found contentment for me is following Gods will and given that he’s sovereign, I cannot step outside if his will so even though I might not like my current circumstances I can still be content. Emotions often flow from our interpretation of the facts or perceptions of evidence. This interpretation gives me contentment beyond my painful or annoying circumstance, if I think I’m responsible for the success of my plans or the solution to fixing my flaws or sins, I will not be content. As for Joy, I believe C.S. Lewis is correct, you have to be surprised by it. You cannot chase it down or demand its presence, but serving God and waiting on him, he will give it. Contentment therefore is not a feeling as much as a belief. Joy is an emotional gift from God. Happy might be an emotion reflecting how much I like my current circumstances and might be less about whether you are doing the right thing.

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