I Shall Not Want
“Don’t wish your life away” is a piece of parental wisdom that especially stands out from my childhood. It was always my mother’s immediate retort whenever my brother or I would verbalize our impatience at the approach of events like Christmas, summer vacation, or birthdays. As a child it always seemed like a rather pointless statement, since I couldn’t seem to get time to move any faster regardless of how much I wanted it to, but the more of my life I’ve lived, the more apt the sentiment appears.
We may not be able to speed up time, but we can invest ourselves so much in wishing that things were different that our life slips away before our very eyes. The formula usually follows the pattern, “I can’t X until Y.” It can be on a major scale: “I can’t be a good citizen until our government starts working” or “I can’t be a good Catholic until the Church gets its act together.” It can also be on a minor scale: “I can’t love my coworker until he stops annoying me” or “I can’t be at peace as long as this situation continues.” In all the matters that make up our daily lives, we can be tempted to make our internal disposition dependent on external circumstances that will never be perfectly to our liking.
There are many difficulties with this way of thinking, but the main problem is believing that something necessary is lacking when everything we need is at hand. Jean-Pierre de Caussade puts it eloquently:
Faith always believes that nothing is wanting to it, and never complains of the privation of means which might prove useful for its increase, because the Workman, who employs them efficaciously, supplies what is wanting by His action. The divine action is the whole virtue of the creature. (Abandonment to Divine Providence 2.4.4)
It turns out that much less is necessary for human flourishing than we typically think. Nothing that is inaccessible to us at this very moment is needed for our fulfilment at this very moment. What is needed for the future will be provided when it is needed, and there is no use pining away for it. If we look forward to a perfect future in this life, we are only wasting our enjoyment of the present, which lacks nothing essential to the life of beatitude.
It should be noted that this way of living is very different from the “grin and bear it” mentality with which it is often confused. Instead of just making the best of life despite what fortune has left us without, faith affirms the constant availability of everything that makes life worth living. Why does faith affirm this? Because no temporal reality can impede God’s activity in the world. If God needed no prior matter from which to create the world, how much less ought he need anything to make us prosper? “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).
Image: Lawrence Lew, OP, Loving Shepherd (used with permission)