One of the dangers and blessings of studying Church History is that you begin to know (or think you know) what sanctity and faith look like. We have so many heroes: apologists, scholars, poets, servants, teachers, healers, mystics. They did God’s work and in many cases left us with a record of the ways that their work was inspired by God. They were faithful people, models of heroic sanctity, our role models.
Lately I have felt preoccupied and discouraged about a number of things, and my prayer life has suffered because of it. Once upon a time I dared to put a tag on this blog titled “prayer”, and I was surprised at myself for thinking that I could write about prayer and spirituality. For years I hadn’t known anything about it, but as my prayer life grew I felt that I could write about it well, and did. I am back to not knowing anything about it.
As I wrote recently, the tape playing in my head hasn’t been a great one lately, and I’ve been beating myself up much more than I usually do. This is not, we are told, how saints behave. How can I say I believe that God loves me unconditionally, but still tell myself I am a piece of sh*t for not being able to hang a picture straight? How can I believe God has good plans for me, but still be heartbroken when the plans I had for myself don’t work out. How can I believe that the God of Love is the most important force in the universe, but not let the great love in my relationships be enough for me when other discouragements challenge me?
I don’t feel very faithful lately, and I don’t feel very hopeful. It’s not that I am any less convicted – I still hold the same intellectual beliefs I always did, I just fail to find the same inspiration that I used to. Because of this I have been keeping God at arms’ length, subconsciously saying “just give me a little while to get my house in order: I’ll get back to you when I am saintlier”. But that’s not how it works, and I know better than that, even if I can’t convince my soul right this second.
A few years ago the private writings of Mother Teresa were published, and to great surprise we discovered that she struggled with feelings of lack of faith and a dry spiritual life. I read certain commentators who rejoiced at this, finally having a good example of those hypocritical do-gooders who say that God inspires them to do stuff but don’t even have any real faith.
But was there faith realer than hers, if as Ignatius tells us “love ought to show itself in deeds more than words”? Sometimes the act of getting up in the morning, of continuing to try, is such a monumental act of faith that feeling flies out the window, and what we feel or don’t feel has nothing to do with our faith anymore, because our faith is a verb, not a noun.
I’m no Mother Teresa, but I’m wondering if it’s a good time for me to read her writings. If I am feeling a lack of faith but continue to show faith through my works, am I failing? The only failure is to fail to welcome God into desolation, but even for that I trust I will be forgiven.