23 December 2007

The Importance of Old Books

I am still pondering on the C S Lewis quote. The primary motivator, as I mentioned in my last post, was the book "The Art of Loving God" by St. Francis de Sales. My grandfather gave it to me in May shortly before Sara and I moved to Chicago. He reads a great deal of the church fathers and tentatively offered his copy, not wanting me to feel he was "pushing" his Catholicism. The book sat on my shelf for months while I considered picking it up and adding it to the lineup.

Earlier this month I had a shouting moment with God. Life was just too hard, my loneliness too overwhelming, responsibility draining my energy and joy about the future. Reading "Revelations of a Single Woman" earlier in the fall was an incredible encouragement. Here was a book written by a woman in my situation with insights and encouragement to not give up hope. The thing was, there was something missing. My miserableness did not abate and no matter what I did, my obsessive thinking patterns were not changing. I wanted to love God more so that whether or not I was feeling loved enough by those around me, it would not rule my emotions or my ability to function.

I've read so many relationship books, so many "how to have a better life" books that I should know how to do this. My problem is that I know so much, but my mind and emotions have such a disconnect in my daily life that the knowing doesn't really make it into my living.

Enter the "old" book.

One of the major issues that I have with modern books (and praise and worship songs, and sermons, and self-help guides) is that the focus is all about me in bold letters and sometimes even in all caps. Life is better than I think. I need to make better decisions, meet new people or serve more. I should take heart, or take control, or just take a break. What I do matters most, has the greatest influence and makes the biggest difference.

But I belong to the God of the universe, and he has told me more times than I can count that I am NOT the center of that universe. So why is it all about me?

St Francis de Sales, writing circa 1610 to women who were unable to dedicate themselves to full-time seclusion but still wanting to live completely dedicated to God, takes a very practical, realistic view of loving God. What is the first step to loving God: Have confidence in God's mercy. Beginning with the acknowledgment of my own failure, sinfulness and imperfection, I still act, confident in the sacrifice of Christ to make everything right. Whether you feel it or not, whether you know it in your heart is of far less important than what you chose to do:

"Act confidently regardless of your feelings And even if you do not feel such confidence, you must still not fail to make acts of confidence, saying to our Lord, "Although, dear Lord, I have no feeling of confidence in Thee, I know all the same that Thou art my God, that I am wholly Thine, and that I have no hope but in Thy goodness; therefore I abandon myself entirely into They hands." It is always in our power to make these acts, although there may be difficulty, there is never impossibility. It is on these occasions and amid these difficulties that we ought to show fidelity to our Lord. For although we may make these acts without fervor and without satisfaction to ourselves, we must not distress ourselves about that; our Lord loves them better thus."(8)
You mean it is not about how I feel about it? My personal satisfaction in my actions is not the highest judgment of their value? Where is the joy in that?

It only gets better! The next step in loving God: Embrace God's will with equanimity. Now this is something that is preached all the time for various reasons.... If I love the life that God has given me, he will finally send me a husband, give me the child that I need so desperately, make clear the path to happiness. Like Magic, acceptance of God's will leads directly to satisfied hopes and sated desires. de Sales, on the other hand, makes it clear that embracing God's will is not about feeling, and it is not about personal satisfaction. It is all about God.

"Rely on God's goodness, not on your feelings Our confidence in God must be founded on His infinite goodness and on the merits of the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, with this condition on our part: that we should persevere and recognize in ourselves an entire and firm resolution to belong wholly to God, and to abandon ourselves in all things and without any reserve to His Providence. Observe that I do not say what we must feel this resolution to belong wholly to God, but only that we must have it and recognize it in ourselves; we must not concern ourselves with what we feel or do not feel, since the greater part of our feelings and satisfaction are only the movements of self-love."(22)
When was the last time that I was told, by a Christian or secular author that feeling was less important than doing? Or, as de Sales goes even farther, that my feelings are so much less about what God is doing or saying in my life and so much more about "self-love"? I could go on and on, but I will draw my quoting to a close here.

There is a bit of the stoic about de Sales, and I am not much of a stoic and have never wanted to be one. But I needed the reminder of two very important points: first, the issue is all about God, recognizing who he is and trusting myself to him, and second, what really matters are the choices I make and what is happening in my will, regardless of how I feel about it. I may not feel like God loves me very much when he leaves me days without physical affection, but that isn't true. He looked down at my misery in sin and joyfully sacrificed his Son to satisfy his perfect justice and reveal his perfect love. This is ALWAYS true, regardless of how I feel.

Not only that... When I choose to submit, choose to love and choose to look to him rather than at the circumstances swirling around and within me, he loves me and holds me. It is true and every choice that I make either undercuts or reinforces that weight of truth in my daily life.

I am still shouting at God--sometimes accompanied by crying and pummeling pillows or just obsessive-thinking induced insomnia--but I calm down, the hiccups lessen and my heart finds rest when I choose to look at him, rather then the swirl of emotion that threatens to overwhelm me. I will never be a calm person without supernatural inner peace. It just isn't part of my make-up. But Galatians says that peace is a fruit of the Spirit and it will come as I live submitted to that Spirit.

So what does this mean? The old books must be read. They come from a time when the individual wasn't the center of life and much of life was just hard and you dealt with it. And they also come from a time when God was big, and omnipotent, not just a personal security blanket. I love my passionate relationship with God, but it could benefit from some awe, and, well, some daily living in the eternal reality of who God is.

But this has run far too long and I feel like I haven't said a sliver of what is really on my heart. Oh well, c'est la vie:-)


Anonymous said...

Wow!! Love, Gen

TulipGirl said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your heart. . .