There have been times when I have stayed away from the computer in order to take time to deal with deep, spiritual “issues” before commenting on them. This time, I was redecorating. So, no worries.
It occurred to me one night when tucking Isaac into bed that he is four and a half and is still sleeping in a toddler bed. We have my old (but still in great shape) twin mattress in the basement, and it only makes sense to move it upstairs before our son’s lack of nocturnal mobility stunts his growth. The idea of making a change to his room, however, made me take a different look at it: it was decorated with baby animals. The ones we picked out when he was in utero. Kind of inappropriate for a superhero. This is what started my “Trading Spaces” week.
With school starting soon, I knew I didn’t have any time to lose, so I planned to pick out all the stuff I needed in one day. After an unsuccessful trip to the fabric store and a desperate prayer to St. Gianna, I did accomplish my goal. I found (and haggled for) a bedspread at the red store, picked out green paint and painting supplies at the orange store and rounded out the day with curtains from the blue store. That was Saturday. On Sunday I painted, Monday I removed the tape, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I worked out the fun decorating details. The room turned out really cute. Perhaps I’ll break from the spiritual stuff in an upcoming post to give you my Martha Stewart project ideas.
Anyway, the point is I was super motivated to do the room. I love being creative and I love my son, so it was a labor of love. It was with this in mind that I read the following passage from I Believe in Love. “In order to give Jesus love for love, we must be souls of desire.” I thought about the zeal with which I spray painted things and searched thrift stores and even carefully cut down the painter’s tape to finish Isaac’s room and suddenly felt like crap. Why do I not work as enthusiastically for Jesus as I did on this project? So many saints were men and women of such burning desire for the Lord, and I can barely get my butt out of bed in time for prayer or Mass.
Yet there are different kinds of desires, I realized as I thought and prayed more on the topic. Clearly, there are deeper desires in me than that of wanting to author a reality-TV-worthy decorating project. I desire a great marriage, for example. Further, just because something is not done with excitement does not mean it is not an act toward reaching a desired goal. Actually, I think it indicates a greater desire to act despite our feelings. Whose marriage could survive (much less be life-giving) if they only acted on happy feelings? Is it not a great expression of deep desire for a great relationship when spouses forgive one another, or to do chores they hate for the good of the family? So when we are talking real desires, the fact that we don’t always feel like doing our duty does not mean that we don’t desire the end. If we do what we should do anyway, it actually indicates that our desires are very strong.
Which brings me back to my desire for Jesus. The fact that I don’t always feel like praying doesn’t necessarily indicate that I don’t desire Jesus. It means I’m a human. At times it is perfectly acceptable to do our religious duties out of, well, duty. Just like we do with diapers or carpools or meal preparation. These tasks speak love when done faithfully. And frankly, they cannot be done faithfully if they are avoided when we don’t “feel like it”! But Fr. d’Elbee also warns, “Routine, terrible routine, is the daughter of apathy. In order to rise out of mediocrity and lukewarmness, renew your desires.” If our duties to God become only empty duties, then we need to take a step back and remember the desire God has placed deep in our hearts: holiness. Perfection. Two things we will fall short on every time.
So why even try? Because acknowledgement of our weakness is the very pathway to greater desire and ultimately, greater holiness. It’s called humility. Humility was the path that the Creator of the Universe chose to take at every turn during his earthly life, and it is the narrow path he sets before those who would follow him. Humility is not a debasement of ourselves. It is seeing things rightly. A truly humble soul realizes that he is a sinner deserving death who instead has received the fullness of the life of God. The humble man sees God for who he is, in all his majesty, spending himself foolishly for those who detest, mock and beat him with their sins. And not for an abstract “everyone”, but for me. I am Barabbas, convicted justly and allowed to go free. When we see thing like that, how can our desire for Jesus not grow?