And letting God work
“Lord, help me to live this day, quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously…” – St. Francis of Assisi
I just passed the hundred-day mark until graduation and got back from my first job interview for post-graduation. And I’m constantly falling into the temptation of being uneasy with the present. I can be uncomfortable, frustrated, and restless.
During these times I try to keep in mind the line from Augustine’s Confessions about our hearts being restless until they rest in the Lord, and I try to be mindful of the small, subtle ways––checking the clock too many times during class, for example––in which I’m drawn away from His presence.
But sometimes it’s just easier for these not to catch. It’s easier to worry about whether or not I’ll have a job in June or September than it is to sit still, quietly, and focus on a task with discipline. (Or focus on just being still!) And I’ll still check the clock 10 times in 10 minutes during a class, or sit down to read and go three minutes before checking my phone, getting a snack, or yes…looking at jobs.
Somehow He always finds ways to communicate to us, especially in the most unexpected ways. As I was heading back from that first interview, I was reading Hamlet. The assignment was for a literature course, so I had to do it. Hamlet, Denmark’s famous fictional prince, who seems to constantly be doubting himself and what he should do, had this to say to me:
“…in my heart there was a kind of fighting / that would not let me sleep…Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well / when our deep plots do pall [fail]; and that we should learn us / There’s a divinity that shapes our ends / Rough-hew them how we will.”
Said a bit less eloquently, God is in control. He shapes us, guides us, and though it’s missing from Hamlet’s account, He loves us.
To Hamlet’s credit, he offers a key insight into the human condition. We can understand God’s dominion precisely in our own weakness, in our own inability to bring every plan we have to fruition, no matter how much work we do. We must, of course, do what is necessary in our own lives to ensure that God’s will can be done. The saints have written a lot on this point. But our inability to fully control and direct our lives is a feature of our nature, not a bug. He created us and it’s to Him that we are directed. We can trust in Him and depend on Him, and indeed, we are invited to do so.
One of the readings at mass recently was the story of Martha and Mary, in which the former was so consumed with the things of the world that she did not take time to simply be in the presence of the Lord and in which the latter, who forgets her tasks and instead sits with the Lord, is held up as an example of holiness. Martha wanted to be sure and to have control and to thoroughly complete all her work, but sometimes, she learned, God interrupts. He creates openings for His grace to flow.
We can help Him. In an excellent (and short!) book called Interior Freedom, Fr. Jacques Philippe explains that St. Thérèse did not particularly like being interrupted during her work. “When she finally found an hour or two to devote to the job, she applied herself in the following spirit: ‘I choose to be interrupted.’ If a good Sister then came by to ask her for some little service, instead of coldly sending her away Thérèse made the effort to accept the interruption with good grace. And if nobody interrupted her, she considered that a charming present from her loving God and was very grateful to him.”
That’s exactly it. That story helps explain what it means to have worldly concerns like Martha but to undertake them like Mary. Our work will be done, but we can’t do it all and we can’t do it all of the time. Particularly at a university that strives to be the best, we can get caught up in the marks of worldly achievement. But while work is essential to who we are, it cannot be the organizing principle of our lives. Worrying excessively about work undermines our ability to be disciplined about it and to actually do it.
Discipline is, I think, an important element in fighting the good fight against restlessness. It creates space for the Lord when and where we normally might not do so. In this regard I’d like to suggest a few practical steps.
- Commit to good habits related to your personal good. Or re-commit to time you’ve already made for them. A few of my favorites recently have been waking up early, exercising, and reading the saints (right now, I’m on Francis de Sales). This isn’t an aggrandizement or disordering of self-love; you can better serve others in sacrificial love when you are yourself flourishing and happy.
- Take the time to make a meal, eat the meal away from technology, and wash all the dishes (or, if you go to the dining hall, challenge yourself to go to the dining hall without your phone or go with people and don’t check your phone once). If you drink coffee, consider getting a french press. It’s not an uppity thing, I promise––they’re reasonably priced and a bag of ground coffee is the cheapest form of coffee. Making it and cleaning it up will be a little reminder that you’re to be a steward of yourself and the things around you, for you are not the owner.
- Adoration. Go to it. Once a week or more, if you want. I’m working on this myself, and really I should make more time for it and it should be more consistent. Sometimes He just wants you to be in His presence. I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but join me in trying to do it.
- Don’t worship your own discipline. Plans will get messed up and you won’t be able to do everything every day. Be in rich relationships with others and give priority to those relationships.
Nick Marr is a senior from San Diego, CA studying political theory. As a 10 year old, he argued with a Supreme Court justice about who was a bigger Notre Dame fan. It was neither his first nor his last argument. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.