February 8, 2012

Whining and Salvation

Once I was trying to pray and I realized I wasn't praying but whining. I was trying to pray in contrition for my sins. By God's grace alone I noticed that I wasn't contrite. In fact, I was annoyed at my sinfulness. The same thing went for trying to pray in temptation. I might have thought I was praying for the strength to fight, but really I was whining to God about having to deal with being tempted.

Sin bothered me because it wasn't really God that I loved. Instead, I was in love with the idea of myself as a holy person. My sins and faults kept pointing out to me that this wasn't the case and I was annoyed. This is the passion of vainglory. Sometimes a subtle commercialism would get into it too; I realized that part of me expected certain graces and holy victories in exchange for what I had 'given up' by becoming a religious.

To our shame sometimes we try to sell religious life this way; the emotional rewards of ministry and the fraternal intimacies of community are supposed to supply what we have renounced by our obedience, poverty, and chastity. Of course this doesn't work out, and we can come to see ourselves, half-consciously perhaps, as cheated. The flesh, after all, fights against abnegation; it wants something in exchange for what it is denied. Failing that, it wants something to numb it, and any number of self-medications are readily available in religious life, publicly and to our shame: alcohol, food, internet, video games, etc. All of this is very pleasing to the devil. Not that he's happy. In fact, he's miserable, and that's part of why he wants everyone else to be miserable too.

Every time I have any sort of trial or temptation--and by the grace of God they have become more terrible and subtle as the years have gone on--and I try to pray through the experience, the whine is there. It's the whining complaint of the unregenerate man who feels as though any suffering is an injustice to him, and any difficulty is an outrageous imposition. Fortunately and after some years I recognize him right away most of the time. I thank God for him as far as he teaches me the humility of knowing I have hardly made a beginning of living a spiritual life, and I turn my intention to thanking God for the tremendous gift of being tried or tempted.

Trials and temptations are the school in which God trains us in letting go of ourselves, our arbitrary tastes, and our attachment to our moods, opinions, and cravings. Not that this is an end of in itself; the purpose of it all is to help us to a greater freedom for charity. God desires that I become free from the tyranny of self so that my love of neighbor can be more complete and transparent. That's salvation. That's the Kingdom of God.


greg said...

A blog post that should become part of a spiritual direction manual.

Giving up whining is such a profound idea. We immerse ourselves in lamentation, but then find it is time to get up and walk on... make the leap from Old Covenant to the New.

I can envision a workshop session in which participants are invited to write up their lamentations, give full voice to whining... and then burn the work product and move on.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant reflection, sir!


Brother Charles said...

There's something I'll have to think on: the distinction between whining and lamentation. If anything arrives I'll post it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for such a truthful and inspiring post.

kam said...

Thank you, Father, I'm sure I'm not the only one who needed to hear this. Greg, great comment.

Rebecca said...

Definition of whining: I have pain that I want to keep telling you about, hoping you'll care, but for whatever reason, you're not interested.