By Julia Amting
Hello my lovely readers.
I’ve taken a break from blogging for a little bit, but I’m back again. Lent has started recently, and I’m here to share a few of my thoughts on that. Lent is a great built-in reflection time for many religions. a time where we kind of take inventory on ourselves spiritually. And whether you’re Catholic or not, I think that it is a tradition anyone can appreciate.
Lent forces us to exercise something we all kind of hate, and that is self-discipline. It sounds so contradictory to think that freedom and joy and happiness come from setting ourselves rules. Our human nature’s idea of freedom is being able to do whatever we want, whenever we want it, right? This is exactly what our culture emphasizes. We have a million resources of instant gratification literally at our fingertips. Social media, Netflix, any fact or idea or article, whenever we happen to want it. And I think it’s really great. There are so many amazing things that have come from these developments.
But unfortunately, I think that this attitude of instant gratification has seeped into our culture and our relationships in an extremely detrimental way that we are kind of blind to. Because we have devices that will satisfy us how we want when we want and we love it, we tend to expect that from the rest of life. I’m noticing that I tend to want my relationships to make me happy, to be good right away without the necessary work. I’m noticing how impatient I’m growing, not being able to handle waiting for anything. Waiting for answers, waiting for the weekend, waiting for love. This is our human nature, but because we have resources that will give us instant gratification, we become used to instant happiness, and expect it. God doesn’t even satisfy us right away. He’s not a genie who will satisfy our every desire, he doesn’t bring us the peace and joy we crave right when we ask Him. This is because God moves slow. God is not bound by our time, and His time is perfect, and ultimately what’s best for us. Nevertheless, this struggle drives so many away from faith.
I recently heard a quote that relates to this, expressed by Pope Benedict XVI.
“The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
This is where the beauty (and struggle) of self-discipline comes in. As humans, we need structure. We don’t thrive when we have nothing to do. We grow bored and tired from our lack of activity (which is a paradox, but a true one), and we look to the world for something to make us happy. We were created to do purposeful things, and our greatest joy comes from accomplishment. We were created to be amazing, to do great things, to be extraordinary and to love in extraordinary ways. It is a beautiful mission that gives our lives purpose.
Any successful entrepreneur, or author, or student has had to overcome resistance to self discipline. To achieve what they aspired to create, they had to continue to work, to practice, to study, even when it was inconvenient or seemed purposeless. If you were to look at the stories of any of the renowned men and women in this world, you would see that they had to overcome this resistance daily. All men and women who have done great things for God had to overcome this resistance to self discipline.
But what is resistance? It is that feeling of not wanting to do something that you know you should, that you know would be good for you. It is what you feel when you wake up in the morning and don’t want to get out of bed. It is a tool that Satan uses to stop us from achieving what we were created to be, to do the great things. Resistance preaches comfort, urges you to stay in bed, to stay where you are comfortable. But there is no greatness possible in this mediocrity. And it is something we have to overcome in order to acquire true happiness. If we are perpetually making decisions with comfort as our top priority, we are avoiding living life to the fullest, we are avoiding living the life that God wants for us. We walk around purposeless, turning away from everything that makes us uncomfortable or stretches us or requires our effort.
As Christians, we know that union with God brings true happiness. We know that our truth lies in scripture, we know that prayer brings that union, we know that a relationship with God is what ultimately fulfills us. These things bring us true and lasting happiness, and we know it. But yet for some reason, we slack off. By letting this resistance overtake us, we are ultimately making ourselves miserable by not doing these things. It is such a mystery to me. Overcoming this resistance is the key to happiness, and the key to holiness.
But here is my disclaimer. If there’s anything you should know about me, it is that I have a tendency to put wayyyy too much on my plate. I struggle with saying no to things and sign myself up for any good thing that comes my way. The other day, I was completely burnt out. School and life and everything had just been bringing me down. Nothing seemed purposeful, nothing seemed necessary, nothing seemed joyful or fun. I felt uninterested and boring and like a drain, sucking the life out of everything. I was trying to overcome resistance, to be self-disciplined in school and exercising and eating right and in prayer, but my entire existence began to feel like an obligation. Everything I did, everything I signed up for, even my prayer life, I did merely because I felt like I had to. I was overwhelmed by the huge task of achieving greatness. Sound familiar?
So I told God about it, angrily. About how angry I was with how my life felt. How hard greatness was, how much He expected of me, and how I perpetually failed to meet these expectations. How bored I was, how joyless I felt, how empty it all seemed. And ladies and gentleman, when we wrestle with God, I’ve learned that He always wins. I realized that God doesn’t love me because of my efforts, because of what I accomplish. He loves me, not because I am so great, but because He is love, and we don’t have to earn it. I realized that these expectations and feelings of failure were not from God, they were Satan messing with my find.
We just have to keep fighting with Him, keep calling out for joy and calling out for answers. He delights in it. And sometimes, stop trying to do so much and learn to rest, because we become discouraged only when we rely on ourselves. Eventually we have to put our flawed selves and our flawed abilities at the foot of the Cross, and continue to persevere and do our best. For we are not saved by works, after all, we are saved by faith as well. Good works and greatness cannot be achieved from our own effort and without faith.
So, I am trying to approach this Lent with this type of reform in mind. To find the joy that comes from discipline, and to rely on Him to show it to me. To learn the balance of striving for greatness, but knowing that I can only achieve it by giving all that I am to the Lord.
If you want to read more about the concept of resistance, check out Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly. It inspired me, and is easy to read yet very impactful.