Dilemmas of Christian Living

This post has been in the making in my mind for some time now. Something happened today and the words just tumbled out of my head onto the keyboard. I have tried making it as coherent as possible. But if I don’t make too much sense, I would love to know your views on the topic.

So you’ve met Jesus. And you’ve found heaven. All the consolations and heavenly hugs make you giddy with joy. You just want everyone else to have the same joy from knowing Christ. Your mind is occupied with God. You want to keep talking about Him to others. You feel like your life is finally on track.

But the euphoria lasts for only so long.

St.John of the Cross in the Dark Night of the Soul says:

the soul, after it has been definitely converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother…. but, as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it and hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloe upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations. The loving mother is like the Grace of God, for as soon as the soul is regenerated by its new warmth and fervor for the service of God, He treats it in the same way…

And when God starts treating you like a grown up, the struggle begins. And it IS a struggle. To stick to His way, which is narrow and how!

A lot of us fall on the way. Some get discouraged and give up. Others, knowing that it is OK to fall, will get back up and keep going on. Only a few recognize this spiritual aridity as grace of God and use it for a greater good.

Most of us in Christ know what is good and what’s bad. We are generally aware of what the Lord expects of us in sticky situations and with difficult people. It still takes special push to bring us to our senses.

Especially for me, I am the gravest of the sinners. Even after knowing Christ, I am full of pride. A lot of times, introspection leads me to the same conclusion – that I lack perseverance, patience and humility.

1)                  I am troubled if someone doesn’t think good of me.

2)                  It hurts me if my family doesn’t include me in some plans.

3)                  Sometimes it hurts me if my friends don’t give me time or an ear when I need it.

4)                  I get irritated when people act unfriendly and difficult.

5)                  It even hurts me many times if things don’t go my way.

And I realize that it is all self-love.

Loving God alone brings peace of mind. Trusting Him assures you that “all things work out for good for those who love the Lord”. If God is the centre of your life, all of the above will not cause ripples in your life. And yet, when we are living in the world we are living in, being constant in Christ is a walk on tight rope. You are faced with so many small and big dilemmas.

Tell me:-

1)                  What does living holy and Christ-like entail?

2)                  Do you listen to secular music?

3)                  Do you watch secular movies?

4)                  How do you handle the guilt over watching and listening to it?

5)                  Is it OK to sometimes want to be ahead of others?

6)                  Someone at work pulls strings to get a promotion. Do you voice your protest or be quiet surrendering the injustice to God or is it OK to be indifferent because you are not so ambitious yourself and so you don’t really care.

7)                  How do you treat your desires and wants vis-à-vis the merit in self-denial?

8)                  How do you stick to a prayer routine when the cares of life leave you with no time or mental strength?

9)                  What about your impatience with your family and friends? You realize that more often than not you are being unfair to them and yet you struggle to control your emotions and temper.

10)               What about the temptations in relationships and personal life? Where and how do you draw a line?

11)                Should living Christian life mean that you will overflow with love for everyone, all the time?

12)                Does it mean you obey God all the time? What if you fail sometime?

13)                Does it mean you sin less than other people in the world?

Have you ever had any of the questions confusing your Christian Life?

Some days I think I have an answer to all these nagging thoughts. But I understand it cannot be all that simple.

What I keep realizing often is that the answer definitely lies in denying yourself and pleasing God alone. However, realizing and acting on it are two different things. And I am still not able to fully put myself out of my mind and replace thoughts of self with thoughts of God.

I try. God knows I make that effort hoping that someday the ‘I’ will be completely replaced by ‘J’. But for now, I am like:

the tiny child who is learning to stand up, but doesn’t know how to walk yet. Absolutely wanting to reach the top of the stairs to find his mother, he lifts his little foot in order to climb the first step. But his trouble is of no use! He falls back down without being able to advance. Well, you be that little child. Through the practice of all the virtues, lift you little foot in order to climb the stairway of saintliness, and don’t imagine that you will be able even to climb the first step! No! But all the Good Lord asks of you is good will. From the top of those stairs, He looks at you with love. Soon, won over by your useless efforts, He will come down Himself, and, taking you in His arms, He will carry you for all time to His kingdom, where you will never leave Him anymore.

The above quote is from the words of counsel of St.Thérèse who is my measure for human love towards God. And I live each day in the hope and struggle that with some help from Heaven, I would someday affirm and live the following as the saint:

O Jesus! When you travelled on earth, you said: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest.” O powerful monarch of the heavens, yes, my soul finds rest in seeing you clothed with the form and nature of a slave (Phil 2:7), lowering yourself to the point of washing the feet of your apostles. Then I remember those words that you said so as to teach me to practice humility: “What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do…The disciple is not greater than his master. Once you know all these things, blest will you be if you put them into practice.” (Jn 13:15-17) I understand them, Lord, I understand these words that came forth from your gentle and humble heart; with the help of your grace, I want to put them into practice.

I want to humbly lower myself and to submit my will to that of my sisters, not contradicting them in anything and without seeking whether they have the right to command me. O my Beloved, no one had this right where you were concerned, and nevertheless you obeyed not only the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, but even those who tortured you. Now I see you bringing your annihilation to the full in the host. How humble you are, o divine King of Glory… O my Beloved, how gentle and humble of heart you appear to me hidden behind the veil of the white host!…

O Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, make my heart like yours.

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My Birthday Prayer

I am happy with my life. It’s a beautiful life. But I want more with what I am. And my forever prayer, especially today, remains:

Birthday Prayer

O little St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, who during your short life on earth became a mirror of angelic purity, of love strong as death, and of wholehearted abandonment to God, now that you rejoice in the reward of your virtues, cast a glance of pity on me as I leave all things in your hands. Make my troubles your own – speak a word for me to our Lady Immaculate, whose flower of special love you were – to that Queen of heaven “who smiled on you at the dawn of life.” Beg her as the Queen of the heart of Jesus to obtain for me by her powerful intercession, (the grace*) I yearn for so ardently at this moment, and that she join with it a blessing that may strengthen me during life. Defend me at the hour of death, and lead me straight on to a happy eternity.

Amen.

*I may give glory to Jesus by example and not only in words. Take away my quick temper and help me love everyone for what they are and not what I want them to be.

Dear Reader, I seek your prayers and blessings today. Please do remember me in your prayer time. Thank you so much in advance.

Here’s a beautiful poem by St.Therese which beautifully expresses my aspirations:

 Oh! how I love Thee, Jesus! my soul aspires to Thee –
And yet for one day only my simple prayer I pray!
Come reign within my heart, smile
tenderly on me,

 Today, dear Lord, today.

But if I dare take thought of what the morrow brings –
That fills my fickle heart with dreary, dull dismay;
I crave, indeed, my God, trials and sufferings,

But only for today!

O sweetest Star of heaven!
O Virgin, spotless, blest,
Shining with Jesus’ light, guiding to Him my way!
O Mother! ‘neath thy veil let my tired spirit rest,

For this brief passing day!

Soon shall I fly afar among the holy choirs,
Then shall be mine the joy that never knows decay;
And then my lips shall sing, to heaven’s angelic lyres,

The eternal, glad today!

-Saint Therese of Lisieux
June 1894

“My Mission, to make God Loved”

And The Little Flower did it in her own ‘Little Way’. Oh, but was she really ‘little’!

Pope St Pius X stated that St Thérèse of Lisieux is “the greatest saint of modern times” and her life is known all over the world. We know about Thérèse’s life because of her writings, particularly her autobiography, ‘The Story of a Soul’.

Therese’s ‘little way’ of living was to carry out ordinary everyday tasks with extraordinary love. She trusted and surrendered herself to Jesus completely and she understood the meaning of Jesus’ words, “Unless you become like little children you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mark 10:15).

Her little way is the highest form of spiritual existence for Christ. I mean imagine living a life only to please God. Zero self-indulgence. No other thought than to make Jesus happy. Yes, her cloistered life helped such living. But hey, from what we read, life had its share of ‘human foibles’ even amongst the nuns.

I KNOW what Jesus wants of me. But do I DO what He has told me to do, all the time? No. I fall. And man, that hurts. Each fall from grace is like falling off a cliff into the sea (thinking the water will somehow break the fall and cause less damage) but instead hitting a hard rock you didn’t know was lying innocuously just below the water.

To have a steady spiritual life is like a distant dream for me. And living a life like Thérèse is something i can only aspire for. How do you ‘pray without ceasing’ in the midst of acute spiritual aridity? How do you make yourself pray and be in His presence when all you want to do is run away from everything, even God? When you don’t want the ‘burden’ of the effort of maintaining a relationship with God! How do you not exercise your will and yet be happy about it?

Thérèse experienced all this. She fell asleep during her prayers. She got upset with people’s harshness. She sometimes couldn’t suffer fools. She was hurt in her relationships. And yet through all this, she was faithful to her Jesus. Oh what a glorious thing!

I always pray that if there’s a way to love Jesus, then it is the ‘little way’ and that God enables me to love Him like she did. I am seized with an extraordinary emotion, an overpowering emotional response, each time i read Thérèse’s thoughts such as:

Far from resembling those beautiful saints who practiced all sorts of austerities from childhood, my penance consisted in breaking my self-will, in keeping back a sharp reply, in doing little kindnesses to those about me, but considering these deeds as nothing.

I fear only one thing—to keep my own will; take it, my God, for I choose all that You choose. The only happiness here below is to strive to be always content with what Jesus gives us. I can demand nothing with fervor, except the perfect accomplishment of God’s will in my soul. O my Beloved, I offer myself to You, that You may perfectly accomplish in me Your holy designs, and I will not allow anything created to be an obstacle in their path.

The one thing which is not open to envy is the lowest place. Here alone, therefore, there is neither vanity nor affliction of spirit. Yet, ‘the way of a man is not his own,’ and sometimes we find ourselves wishing for what dazzles. In that hour let us in all humility take our place among the imperfect, and look upon ourselves as little souls who at every instant need to be upheld by the goodness of God. From the moment He sees us full convinced of our nothingness, and hears us cry out: ‘ My foot stumbles, Lord, but Thy Mercy is my strength,’’  He reaches out His Hand to us. But, should we attempt great things even under pretext of zeal, He deserts us. It suffices, therefore, to humble ourselves, to bear with meekness our imperfections. Herein lies – for us – true holiness.”

Let us work together for the salvation of souls. We have only the day of this life to save souls and to give them to the Lord as proofs of our love. I tell Jesus that I am glad not to be able to see, with the eyes of my soul, this beautiful heaven which awaits me, in order that He may vouchsafe to open it forever to poor unbelievers. I cannot perform brilliant works; I cannot preach the Gospel or shed my blood. But what matter? My brothers work in place of me, and I a little child, keep very close to the royal throne. I love for those who are carrying on the warfare. My deeds, my little sufferings, can make God loved all over the world.

Neither can I. I cannot do great things, I cannot preach, I lack the courage to be a martyr. Hell, I haven’t yet publicly confessed that I am a Christian. Those who know me, do not know about my blog. And i am anonymous to those of you who read this.

Gosh, as i type this i realise even more how far away I am from truly loving Jesus in a way that He is worthy of.

But I and  Thérèse. And I just hope that one day, sooner than later, I will have perfected the little way – in breaking my self-will, in keeping back a sharp reply, in doing little kindnesses to those about me, but considering these deeds as nothing. All for the love of Jesus.

Would you remember me in your prayers, please?