Editor’s Note: Today, we are blessed to introduce Connie Rossini to you. She is a homeschooling mom whose blog “Contemplative Homeschool” is full of musings on Carmelite spirituality and raising contemplative kids. I think you’ll find her writing a refreshing addition to our site here. Please welcome her warmly.
I’ve been pondering lately why I am still working on some of the same spiritual issues I knew I had a problem with years ago. Recent reading and deep thinking have changed my perspective on life. But I realize I’ve been in this place before. I’ve thought about these same issues before, but I haven’t made much progress. I want this time to be different. How should I proceed?
Have you ever experienced something like this:
You attended a retreat and your soul felt rejuvenated. Or a saint’s biography moved you to say, “I want to do that too!” Perhaps a homily gave you a spiritual insight you had never had before. Or a conversation with a more advanced friend urged you forward.
You were inspired. You felt excited about living for God. You were determined to follow Him more closely. For a while, you succeeded. You sailed along on the inspiration. Holiness seemed easy. You resisted temptations without hesitation. You prayed more faithfully and fervently.
Then one day you awoke and the inspiration was gone. Temptations hit you before breakfast, and you began giving in. Soon you were back where you started, before that retreat, book, homily, or conversation.
This happened to me the first time I read St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s autobiography, Story of a Soul. And the second time. It took reading books about her spirituality–some of them more than once too–before I really began to change.
Why was that?
I’ve come to realize that growth in holiness takes more than inspiration. It takes hard work. It requires a plan.
Sometimes I have hoped the moment of inspiration was my second conversion. I have hoped that now at last the Holy Spirit would do all the work for me and I could enjoy the benefits. But the spiritual life doesn’t work that way.
Yes, at some point, God begins infusing the soul with prayer and virtue in a deeper way. That’s what the illuminative way, the early stage of supernatural contemplation, is about. But here’s a key thing to remember: God will not step in until I have done everything I can, with ordinary grace, to grow closer to Him. In other words, I have to do a lot of hard work before God gives me a Sabbath rest.
Next time you feel inspired, don’t just coast on the inspiration. Sit down and write specific goals for your spiritual life. How will you know when you have met them? How will you know when it’s time to move on to something new? If you don’t have a spiritual director, recruit a friend or spouse to encourage and support you in your efforts.
After attending an Ignatian retreat, for example, resolve to do the Daily Examen faithfully, whether you feel like it or not. After reading about a saint, choose one habit of the saint’s to copy, making it simple and concrete. Did she practice heroic self-control with her tongue? Then you might choose one person you are prone to argue with and begin responding with patience instead. After a time you can practice this new-found patience with everyone in our life. You might advance to saying good things about others in place of gossiping.
When you make your spiritual goals small and specific, you make them attainable. Then when the inspiration wears off, you can say, “I may not feel as excited as I did then, but I have made some real changes by the grace of God.” And you’ll be ready to keep making those goals–whether or not you feel inspired.
And God willing, so will I.
Photograph of Connie Rossini courtesy of Connie Rossini and used with permission. All rights reserved.