Building Blocks of the Spiritual Life
Who is the Master Builder of your spiritual life? Yourself? Or God?
Often times on our journey into penance, we encounter what appear to be roadblocks on our spiritual journey. God may intend to use these as building blocks of our spiritual life. What are some of these and how may we allow God to use them?
Lord, I so want to be perfect. Yet I know that I am not. I want to follow You, yet feel so discouraged at times. Can You help me with my difficulties if I allow You to do so? Guide me, my Jesus, and help me to draw closer to You even now, when I do not see the way. Amen.
ABSENCE OF CONSOLATIONS:
Consolations are sweetness in prayer and tender emotions of love for God. These are often present when we begin to grow closer to God. In time, however, they usually lessen or even disappear. Do we still love God even though we no longer feel that burning, consuming love? Can we continue a spiritual journey that no longer seems as exciting or inviting as it used to?
God invites us to build our spiritual life on the God of consolations, not on the consolations of God. God wishes us to love Himself for Himself alone, not for the joys He can give us.
To build your spiritual life with this building block, persist in your spiritual life despite your feelings. Know that the Lord is building your perfection on the solid basis of your will to love Him. You will learn that you do not need His consolations nor to look for them. You need Him.
My Jesus, how I used to feel such love for You! And now I feel nothing. What is wrong with me, my Lord, in that I think that I love You only if I feel I do? Do I love my friend only when I am caught up in tears with love for him or her? Or is my love deeper and constant without those sensible feelings? My Lord, You are my true Friend, and more than Friend--You are Father, Brother, Spouse to me. Let me know that I do love You because I want to be with You always and You with me. Amen.
A desert is an arid place with no water or place of refreshment. Spiritual aridity is more than the lack of all sensible and spiritual consolations. In spiritual aridity, prayer grows wearisome, irksome, endless. Faith and trust seem dormant.
Aridity is painful. However, it is one of God's ways of detaching us from all created things, including joy in our devotion, so that we may learn to love God for His sake alone.
Aridity becomes a building block of our spiritual edifice when it teaches us humility. We realize that we cannot earn nor do we deserve God's consolations which are His freely given gifts.
Aridity fosters virtue which we must embrace by acts of our will. Ask Our Lady, the saints, and your guardian angel to pray for you and with you. Ask a particular saint to prod you to maintain your spiritual exercises. In aridity, we unite with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross. We persist in our spiritual life, discouraging as it may be, realizing that God is strengthening the structure through this time. God is calling us ever closer to Himself.
Oh, my Lord, help me. This desert seems devoid of any Living Water. Where are You in this dryness, my God? I no longer see You nor feel the gentle, refreshing breath of Your Love. Who will sustain me in this desert if not You, my God? It is night here in my soul. And who knows but that just over yonder, so close, so very close, is the Living Spring I seek, but the darkness keeps me from seeing It. Oh, my God, sustain me in this darkness. I put my trust in You. Amen.
FAILURE TO ENDURE:
Failure to endure is an attitude of changeableness in how we approach the spiritual life. Beginning joyfully to make changes in our lives, to root out sin, and to embrace God's Will, we slowly realize that overcoming our faults is more than simply wanting to do so. This is real work, wearying work, especially when we struggle so against our human nature that complains and protests. Weren't we contented before? Maybe we ought to simply give up and revert to how we used to be. We weren't so very bad, were we?
Failure to endure becomes a building block when we use it to build endurance. As athletes push themselves constantly to overcome weakness and build endurance, so must we in the spiritual life.
Not every athlete wants to exercise endlessly, stretching muscles that complain and working out while the body shouts, "Give up! Rest!" If we want to win the spiritual race, we must "work out" when tired, move forward despite setbacks, and persist even if we want to quit.
Invite a friend or family member to go to Mass or confession with you once a month. Attend Mass at a church other than your parish. Stop for something to eat after Mass, if you have time. Make prayer time part of your morning and evening routine. Take baby steps and begin slowly but persist.
My dearest God, You are so constant in loving me and I am so inconstant in loving You. How could I make such promises of fidelity to You and now wish to abandon what I have promised? Did You ever tell me, my God, that the journey would be easy or the road short? Have You, rather, not promised the Cross and the narrow way? You Who bore Your Own Cross and Who walked the narrow way, help me to bear mine and walk with me. Let me run the race set before me and stick to the course, keeping in mind the prize that awaits me, eternal life with You. Give me perseverance, Lord. I want to be with You. Amen.
Discouragement and despair can set in when we begin to ask ourselves questions like these: Who am I fooling anyway? Look at my past sins. Look at how I was brought up. I know I am forgiven, but I am not good enough to be in any religious association. I could never live up to those ideals or be like those other people who are so holy. Why should I even try?
Discouragement and despair can become a building block when you realize that you are your own worst enemy. God came to save sinners, so you qualify! The CFP is an Confraternity of penitents, that is, sinners who are trying to be better. If your past is sinful, great! You belong here with the rest of us. Believe in God's mercy, accept forgiveness, and move on.
Lord, here I am, a sinner. I am ashamed of my past, but You came for the likes of me. Accept me into Your Arms and forgive me. Help me to forgive myself. Amen.
Over-eagerness is spiritually trying to do too much too quickly. It is like someone who is just learning to cook and who decides to make a gourmet meal as the first dinner or someone who is just learning woodworking and decides to build a china closet as the first project. The beginning cook does not yet know what blanching, searing, and sautéing are, nor does the beginning woodworker know how to do planing, sanding, drilling, or staining.
If our project is too grand, no matter what we are learning, we soon grow discouraged and weary. We think we can never succeed when, in fact, we could if only we moved more slowly, allowing ourselves to learn the techniques we need to achieve the goal.
Over-eagerness becomes a building block of the spiritual life when we set aside our unrealistic time frame of becoming holy and when we allow God and those who represent Him to lead us. Over-eagerness can foster obedience and patience, two virtues essential to spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is a GROWTH, and growth in every living thing takes TIME. Allowing God to grow us is a sturdy building block, in fact one of the major ones, in any spiritual edifice.
Oh, Lord, I so want to be holy! I want to serve You perfectly and totally. I know how much needs changing in my life. Why can't I do it all now, Lord? Oh, my Jesus, You know how much I need to grow. You know the pace I need to keep. You know what You want to make of me. Why am I too proud to move at Your pace, Lord, instead of fretting about being unable to move at my pace? Right now, I surrender to You all my plans and time frames, Lord. Give me peace about Your pace, Lord. I want to walk with You, not outrun You. Slow me down, Lord, so I can take the time to learn what You want to teach me. Give me patience, Lord, and total trust in You. Amen.
Scruples are a spiritual disease which causes us to feel anxiety about having offended God for little or no reason. How can I be sure I am in the state of grace? What if God is angry with me? Does He still love me? How can I make up for what I have done?
By focusing intently on every little action or inaction of our lives, we become depressed and weary. We begin to mistrust ourselves and question God Who seems unmerciful to require a degree of perfection which we cannot seem to achieve.
Scruples become a building block of our spiritual life when we use them to purify our intentions and to meekly and obediently accept the judgement of our spiritual director or other spiritual counselor.
This experience, while it may be humbling, is a growth producing one. We come to realize that God is a God of mercy and love, not a bookkeeper who is keeping minute track of every little infraction. Good Father that He is, God loves us despite our imperfections. He Who showed greatest mercy to sinners will surely be merciful to us who want to serve Him well. Overcoming scruples brings a peace about Who God is and who we are. We can love Him more, trust Him more, having been healed of this spiritual disease.
Oh, my dear, dear God. You are so perfect and I am so imperfect. Every time I look at myself, I see how I fall short of what I could be doing. I fail You at every turn, Lord. So I admit this. Now help me to go on, my Lord. Let me know that You are a Loving Father Who holds me close to His Heart and Who understands my weaknesses. Like a good papa who does not punish childish imperfections, so You do not frown at mine. You know my heart is good and my desire to follow You sincere. You love ME. Never let me doubt that. Amen.
DIFFICULTIES IN PRAYER:
Difficulties in prayer arise when the way one used to pray is no longer satisfying or useful. Am I growing lax? Do I no longer love God? Why can't I pray?
As we advance in the spiritual life, how we pray changes. In the beginning, vocal prayer is sufficient. Then meditation takes its place where the soul can gain many insights from prayerfully thinking about God, the mysteries of the Rosary, the life of Christ, the lives of the saints, and so on. As the soul advances, these forms grow wearisome and the soul cannot pray this way very well. Then prayer becomes the prayer of quiet presence to God, a loving attentiveness to Him with few or no words.
Difficulties in prayer become building blocks when we realize that God is moving us into deeper levels of union with Him. We will still pray vocal prayers and the Divine Office (if one is living the CFP Rule). We will still meditate at times or pray the Rosary. But we will allow God to lead us in our prayer so that He can make of us what He wishes. Be creative in your prayer time. Say the Rosary while taking a walk or on a treadmill. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours outdoors. Look for other ways to be creative.
My Lord, I want to spend time with You. But the time I spend seems so different than it used to. Are You calling me to spend my time with You a different way? Show me that way, my Lord. Help me to realize that I need not speak all the time to You. I need not constantly force a meditation. I need only be with You. Be with You in the silence, in my love for You and Yours for me, if that is Your wish for me. My Lord, may I be with You as You wish me to be. Amen.
DISTRACTIONS IN PRAYER:
Distractions in prayer are common. We begin to pray and find ourselves thinking about everything and everyone except about God. Why can't we keep our mind on our prayers? Is there something wrong with us spiritually?
Distractions in prayer become building blocks when we humbly realize that they are common to everyone. One good way to deal with them is to offer to God, at the beginning of prayer, all the distractions and ask Him to bless every person or situation that comes to your mind while at prayer. In that way, the distraction becomes a prayer. If you are plagued with distractions, don't go back to the beginning of your prayer and start over. Pray for the elements and people of the distraction and keep going. God knows that you are trying.
Lord, the world and all its allurements crowd me and distract my soul from You. It seems to be a constant battle. Sometimes I am so weary that I cannot even tell You how much I love You. Yet You know my innermost thoughts and desires. It seems that the only time I really pray with fervor is when I am confronted by or need in my life or someone else's. Help me to see You when I face these distractions. I pray for the people and events in them all, right now, that You will shower Your graces upon them. Help me to trust You and leave all in Your Hands, including my ability to pray. Amen.
COMPARISON WITH OTHERS:
Comparison with others occurs when we look at others and see that we fall short of where they are on the spiritual journey. We feel they are advancing more quickly than we are, or that they are not experiencing the difficulties we have, and we feel insufficient next to them. We are embarrassed by our slow pace or our spiritual difficulties and become tempted to abandon the spiritual walk because we don't see ourselves being as "good" as others.
Comparison with others can become a building block when it births in us a realism about spiritual growth. Just as every variety of plant grows at its own pace, and matures its fruit in its own genetic time table, so does God grow us according to the timetable for the spiritual fruition of our own souls.
A tomato is not a carrot nor does it grow the same way. When we realize that God knows best, for He has created us to be who we are, we cease comparing ourselves with others and peacefully and trustingly allow the Master Builder to build us into the structure He has designed.
Dearest Jesus, I look at the saints in Your Kingdom and those around me in my life, and I think that I am so far from them that I shall never attain sanctity. But where I am now does not matter, does it, Lord, if I am where You want me to be? What matters is that I move closer to You in the ways and at the pace You set. For You want me to be with You eternally, and that is what I want, too, Lord. Give me patience with my spiritual progress, Lord. Grow me as You see fit. I know You will achieve Your Will in my life if only I allow You to do so. So may I be perfectly content with Your work in me. May I know that, if I allow You a free hand, You WILL bring me to Eternal Joy with You. Amen.
Busyness is common to us all. Often after we begin to grow in the spiritual life, our lives suddenly become super busy. There is a saying, "If the devil can't make you sin, he will make you busy." Workloads increase, the computer crashes, someone gets very ill, we are expecting a new baby, we must move, we need to get another job, we decide to go back to school, the kids take up sports and we must drive them, and so on. Things like these take up super amounts of time. Suddenly we feel that we are under so much pressure that we just can't pursue the spiritual life as we would like. And so we are tempted to quit.
Busyness can become a building block in our spiritual edifice when we use it as a means of surrender to God's Will and to trust Him for our growth and not ourselves. If we are busy because of circumstances beyond our control, we need to realize that these situations are part of God's plan for us. Ask Him how He wants you to follow Him now. Busyness makes us realize that God is flexible. What worked last week in our walk with Him may not work this week, but that is OK as long as we are still walking with the Lord.
Help, Lord! How am I ever going to cope with all that is going on in my life? Here I envisioned myself spending quality time with You, and I don't even have time to eat in peace. My Lord, what is happening here? Give me the grace to calm down, to take a deep breath, and to feel You here with me, right now. If I can't meet my expectations, then help me to lower my expectations. If folks need me, let me respond to them in love as You did. I want to follow You my way, and You are having me follow You in Your Way. So be it, my Lord. I surrender to the duties and obligations that I am now facing. Show me how to love and serve You better through them. Amen.
TO SEEK ADDITIONAL COUNSEL:
There really are no excuses if you want to unite yourself more closely with the Lord. Your spiritual director, priests, religious, CFP Regional Communications Coordinator, CFP Formation Person, and CFP Council of Directors can give you additional counsel and will offer their prayers if you need to turn a spiritual roadblock into a building block. May God be with you and encourage you as you draw ever closer to Him!