Have you ever wondered why you aren’t more joyful? I have. I think as a Christian I should be filled with joy, and yet at times I struggle with sadness. Often it is because I can’t seem to balance all the issues I am dealing with. Adam and Eve, before the Fall, had no problem finding the “golden mean”. When they ate, they ate only what was necessary. When they had any form of pleasure, it was never inordinate pleasure. What a joy it must have been to live in such perfect harmony.
It strikes me that one of the big advantages we lost in the Fall was this perfect balance in human existence. Now, it seems we must struggle to get it right. How should I spend my time? How should I spend my money? Should I be stricter with my children or am I too strict? Should I work harder or am I working too hard already?
One of the things I struggle with the most is finding a proper balance between seeking perfection and accepting reality. Human nature being what it is, some people have more of a struggle with this than others, and some struggle more with one side of the balance than the other. Let me explain.
Some people — for whatever reason, and I believe it will always be a mystery — desire perfection more than others and will have a difficult time accepting reality, specifically the reality that this is a fallen world which will never be perfect this side of the Second Coming of Christ. I count myself among those people. Unfortunately, it is often not a desire for holiness stemming from a love of God that drives this desire for perfection, but rather pride and a desire to control things and people, even myself
Other people will have less trouble accepting reality and this fallen world, but will not be as concerned with perfection, also for the wrong reason, because it is just too much trouble. The goal would be to balance these two elements perfectly, to strive after perfection with all our hearts and souls but in humility, and, at the same time, accept with peace of mind, heart, and soul the fact that we will never attain perfection in this world.
Desiring to become a better person, to make this world a better place, to do everything I do as well as I can are wonderful goals in life, but I need to remember that “better” is an unlimited concept but my resources are not. God in His wisdom knows I need to struggle and suffer in order to grow in faith, hope, charity, humility, and patience. But there is always the risk that rather than understanding God’s plan for me, rather than accepting the fallen condition of this world and all the pain that can cause, I see my struggle with my own sin, the sin of my fellow humans, and the fallen condition of the world as hopeless and I end up killing off the joy I should feel as a Christian — and the greater the desire for perfection, the greater the risk.
What I really desire is God, who is perfection. This is the ultimate gift we lost with the Fall. I believe that if I could truly know God’s love for me I would be at peace. But we never know God’s love perfectly in this world. We must wait for eternity, which often feels like an eternity of waiting. I am like a spoiled child who knows what it is he does not have and desires it above all patience.
One of the great comforts and aids I have found in this struggle has been reading the diary of Saint Faustina Kowalska. A member of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, she was instrumental in the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy, celebrated on the Sunday following Easter.
This focus on God’s Divine Mercy, which was St. Faustina’s special calling from God, brings a balance to the natural fear we should have of God’s judgment. God is all just, but He is also all merciful. Sister Faustina’s diary, called Divine Mercy in My Soul, is the record of her conversations with Christ. It illuminates Christ’s desire that God’s Divine Mercy be recognized by all the world.
Reading her diary, written in a very simple style, brought me a peace and comfort without me knowing exactly why or how. It also brought joy and dispelled sadness. It was as if it spoke directly to my heart rather than to my mind. I came to realize that I am wholly dependent upon God’s Mercy and love. What else can we count on to save us?
In my struggle for holiness in my life, I too often forget that I can do nothing on my own power, and that any good I have in me comes by Grace from God. St. Faustina’s dairy reminded me that true humility always acknowledges this poverty of spirit, this recognition that in reality I own nothing and owe everything, but my sins, to God.
Sometimes, when I forget that truth, I delude myself into thinking I need to earn God’s love, as if that were necessary or even possible. God’s love is a given. Mercy is different. I never delude myself into thinking I can earn mercy. The very word implies it is impossible to earn it. We beg for mercy. Mercy is a last hope when everything else is gone. Begging for mercy puts everything into proper perspective.
When I come to see that there is nothing I can do to earn God’s love, that it is a free gift — when I come to see that everything I have is a gift from God and that all I can really do in all honesty is to admit my poverty and beg His mercy, then I have gotten everything in its proper order. Equals can love one another, as can those who are unequal. But it is only someone who is unequal who begs for mercy. One can only truly seek mercy in humility. Asking God’s mercy reveals my true state to me.
It’s odd, but it is the recognition that I can do nothing by myself that brings me peace. It also helped me realize that my best hope and source of joy lies in throwing myself on the mercy of the court, the court of God’s justice but also the court of His Divine Mercy and Love.
(© 2011 Pat Gillespie)