Am I doing this for God or for myself?
As I continue down this path, pursuing Beauty, publishing, writing, I am continually stopped in my tracks to question myself. Why am I doing this? I know what I want the answer to be. I want the answer to be, "All glory to God!" I want the answer to be that the apologetics of Beauty is what drives me to put pen to paper. For years I have had the conquest of culture through Beauty as my stated mission. There are days, today among them, where I question whether what I am really after is success of the mission or acknowledgement that I am leading it.
It is easy at the beginning to charge in, full of vim and vigor. To set out to conquer the world full of confidence and faith. To know that, whatever the outcome, we will rejoice as the fruits of labor are the Divine Will so long as we labor for Him. Then, it seems to falter. Doubts begin to enter them mind and the temptation to despair and anxiety can creep back in. The enthusiasm does not so much taper off as crash down. This is the period of feeling lost. We lose sight of the road ahead and there is a pull from within to just turn around. Actually, what is even worse is that the desire and feeling is to just drop down and quit; not to return to the beginning and start again but to just live in the middle.
So what is to be done?
Speaking personally, the benefit of having lived with myself for so long is that I recognize when I am entering a low point in my emotional/spiritual cycle. I'll be honest. I really don't want to post this. It's actually VERY uncomfortable to even THINK about the fact that someone may read this. That's part of why I'm continuing on. I can't expound the virtues of working through trials and difficulty if I only want to convince others to do it but won't put in the work myself. What I really want to do is to cap my pen, close my journal and file all of this away in my collection of hastily scribbled musings, never to be seen again.
It turns out that the answer to this issue is actually very simple: Do what you know you ought even though you don't want to. I know that I cannot immediately control the feeling that hits me but that I can control my will to continue on. Keep praying, keep working and let others in.
In the spiritual life, these low points are tied to periods of aridity. Periods where prayer seems to be little more than disinterested reading or the dry repetition of poetry memorized in grade school. Where not only do you feel disconnected from the words you are repeating but that the very words themselves feel disconnected one from the next.
When it seems to have lost all of its meaning is when it is most important and even most valuable to push on. Prayer is not about me. Feelings and consolation are not something that I have control over. They neither validate what I am doing nor does their removal demonstrate a lack of value*.* Consolation is a grace from God. It is a grace freely given out of an abundance of Goodness and not something that I can earn or that I am deserving of. When the feeling has gone, our faith is tested. Is it a faith based in the intellect? Will we act our faith and live it fully? Do we pursue God because of Truth, Goodness and Beauty or because it feels nice?
These times of trial are the fire that forges steel. Through the heavy heart, the soul is strengthened. We live our faith when the feeling is gone and we persevere. Success comes to those that work.
"Come to Me all ye that labor and are burdened and I will refresh you."
When the heart is heavy and the soul feels empty it is important to continue to work and to pray. Do not ask that the burden is removed; instead pray that it may become fruitful! In the line from St. Matthew quoted above, the word "refresh" is of great importance. Notice that it is not "Come to Me all ye that labor and are burdened and I will remove the burden." There is no promise from God that He will make the trials cease. What He does offer is refreshment. He will give new strength. He will reinvigorate. If we continue to pray and continue to work; if we continue to put one foot in front of the next, He will strengthen us and walk with us.
How does this persevering through trial relate to the purity of intention that this short essay started with? Intention is purified when we recommit through times of difficulty. When we offer our labor to God it becomes fruitful.
Rather than continue with philosophical platitudes, I pray it is fruitful to share a real life example. I set out to present Dominus Illuminatio Mea for God's glory and for the good of souls. At least that's what I felt at the beginning of the project. I offered it to Saint Joseph to do with as he pleases. To put it bluntly, I knew that it would be a miracle if we were actually to publish it but that I needed to faithfully do the work and trust the outcome to Divine Providence. If this project is meant as an opportunity to share His Beauty and to humble my soul in the process that all glory be to God. The intention is purified by continuing to do the work even though I don't think that it will be materially fruitful.
The surrender to Divine Providence is not passive. It is not waiting for God to act. It is making a decision and taking ownership of it. Offer the labors to God in the beginning and see it through to the end. Trust that God will draw good from your labors and will bring it to the end that is most pleasing to Him. That is where the surrender lies. When we say, "Here is my work, I lay it at your feet. Do with it as you will." we are purifying our intentions and putting our faith in God. Work as though all things depend on you. Pray as though all things depend upon God.
Our job is to continue to do what we know we ought. Our job is to continue to labor as we set out to do. When we leave the material outcome in the hands of God he will offer us His refreshment and make our labors fruitful.