A few scattered thoughts today taken from old notes I have from a series on discernment I taught back in the 1990s.
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A Missionary of Charity Sister at the Gift of Peace home for the homeless and dying in Washington, D.C. once shared with me something she said Mother Teresa taught the M.C. Sisters. I’ve always found it helpful:
The devil very often tempts the good with good things, so that good people, distracted by things they should not be doing, compromise the few good things they should be doing. So instead of doing what they’ve been called to well, they do many good things God never asked them to do, poorly.
Frequently in my experience that’s the origin of burnout among good-willed people who are not careful to discern their limits and remain in them. Many lurking motives drive people’s departure into diversionary good-deeds that exceed healthy limits, including: (1) fleeing from emotional pain in other parts of life, (2) being driven by guilt or (3) being pulled along by a compulsive need for approval or praise from others.
That’s why the “discerning life” is crucial, which daily examines not only what good should be done, but why one should do it, and what good fruits one should look to see. While the virtue of zeal (passion in doing good for God) keeps us in hot pursuit of excellence, the virtue of meekness (recognizing and embracing one’s limited role in the Body of Christ) resists the temptation to always be restless, unsettled, unsatisfied with the limits of one’s present life-mission, and always itching for “something else.” Surface-skimming dilettantes, who balk or flee at the first sign of adversity, challenge, opposition or boredom, fail to recognize and seize the always-present opportunities to sink deep the roots of virtue into the present moment. Opportunities for greatness, like the commandments of God, are never far out of reach for the meek:
For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. — Exodus 30:11-14
Years ago a mentor said to me:
Over the years I have moved from always wanting to do more than I should, to being content with doing all that is possible, to simply embracing what I’ve been called by God to do. Zeal joined to humility gives birth to twins: wisdom and obedience. And the best sign I’ve found that one has given birth to these two is to cease complaining.
Let me leave you with a 4 minute snippet from an interview Conan O’Brien did with comedian Louis C.K. that went viral back in 2013. Hear how C.K. “gets” the temptation to flee the hard graces of the moment. Excuse the language. Listen here: