Dear Father John, there is just too much to read! I feel like I should be reading more about my faith and the spiritual life, because I want to grow more. But I am so frustrated, because even if I would spend all day reading, I feel like I would barely be scratching the surface. So I get tense, confused, and then I don’t do anything. What’s going on with me, and what I should I do about this?
In our first post, we discussed the passionate desire to grow in faith and how to “Christianize our minds” by addressing three functions of our intellect.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Second, the spiritual gluttony factor. Your frustration comes across loud and clear in your question! You wish you had more time to learn – to learn everything! But that’s impossible! And you know it’s impossible. So, I need to ask you, why are you frustrated? Frustration is always a function of expectations. If you are expecting yourself to be able to do the impossible, of course you will be frustrated. But what would happen to that frustration if you changed your expectations? How would you feel if you fully, truly accepted the real limitations that your human nature places upon the possibilities for your intellectual development? In that case, you would maintain your eagerness to continue learning about God and his plan for your life, but that eagerness would bring you peace and joy instead of frustration and tension.
Have you ever asked yourself why you haven’t accepted the real limits of your human condition in this arena? I would venture to say that a contributing factor in this scenario is the ancient enemy, the devil himself. You are too in love with God to be exceptionally vulnerable to temptations of material excess. So the devil has to change tactics in order to impede your spiritual progress. Enter spiritual and intellectual gluttony. If your spiritual and intellectual eyes get bigger than your stomach, and you act on that, you will experience some spiritual indigestion, and that will become a nice ally in the devil’s efforts to slow your progress along the path of Christian maturity.
You experience pleasure in learning about the God you love. This is a good thing – all pleasures, in their proper settings, are good things. God created both our capacity for pleasure and the objects that stimulate those pleasures. The devil can’t change that. But he can twist it around a bit, and get us to be more and more attached to the pleasure, to the point that we begin preferring – in practice if not in theory – the pleasure itself to the God who created it.
We understand this clearly in the material realm – the physical pleasures associated with gluttony, lust, and sloth are obvious. We are less aware of the spiritualized forms of these capital sins. If your eagerness to learn about God and the faith he has given you is stirring up anxiety, tension, frustration, instead of contentment and joyful enthusiasm, some intellectual gluttony may be creeping in. Nip it in the bud. Accept the truth that you know: you will never be able to learn everything about God and the spiritual life; your journey to Christian maturity will continually present you with new vistas and discoveries, and you don’t have to try to exhaust them. That leads us to the third thought.
In our next and last post on this topic, we will discuss options of finding healthy ways to obtain greater knowledge of our faith through spiritual reading, setting goals, and attitude management.
Art: Der VÃ¶ller [The Full One], , 1804, PD, Wikimedia Commons.