Thursday, March 2, 2017

It might not look like much, but the interior life is everything

I thought life was too short not to do it all, so I was willing to try anything once. I was always up to something new: apartments, jobs, travel plans, degrees, beliefs. I had long lists of things I wanted to try and places I wanted to visit. But then I converted to the Catholic Faith, had my first baby, and became a stay-at-home mom. I dont really do a whole lot anymore.

No one calls my parents to say, “You’ll never guess what she did now!” about the soup I made for dinner. No one cheers from the sidelines: “Do it now, while you still can!” when I seize some free time to read. And I dont send postcards from my adventures in the Land of Croup. 

There is still movement aplenty in the form of toddler mischief, blocks flying past my head, and children standing on things they shouldnt be standing on.

But for the most part, any changes, any “movement,” comes not from doing something exciting in the greater world but from an interior movement of the heart, mind, and will. Im not crossing borders, but experiencing the slow and often painful movement of the soul toward God.

Our culture is all about the externals. We cultivate bodies and bucket lists as if there will be a crown in heaven for those who looked the best while trekking at Machu Picchu. But in heaven, joy will be found in those quiet fruits of practicing the faith: contemplation, prayer, and adoration.

The inner life isnt flashy, its not exciting, and no one is going to be jealous of the time spent on your knees in prayer. But its the real stuff, the good stuff. The hard stuff.

More determination is required to subdue the interior man than to mortify the body; and to break one's will than to break one's bones. — St. Ignatius of Loyola


Mother Teaching Daughter Prayers, Jean-Baptiste Jules Trayer
In seizing freedom and making lists there was little bending of the will, little in the way of sacrifice beyond saving money for the next adventure. And very little stillness.

Now I live on a much smaller, more intimate scale. There are no big trips planned, no promotions, nothing exciting—only the day-to-day attempt at joyful sacrifice and surrender of self. This is harder than the worst of flights, bedbugs, and food poisoning all in one. It doesnt sparkle with novelty either: the battle against the flesh is an old one.

But this interior movement is everything, even when I am perfectly still, kneeling—not even “standing on my own two feet.” As the spiritual life has grown, the bucket list has shrunk. Sometimes that feels good and right, other times a backpack and a one-way ticket sound pretty appealing.

And those times I remind myself that the real destination sells no postcards, and no one’s clamoring that you should go now before its discovered. The crown offered there is sought in the smallest of moments, in privacy and prayer, in the constant and quiet pursuit of what is good and holy and true—and in the denial of self.


Lord what wilt Thou have me do? Behold the true sign of a totally perfect soul: when one has reached the point of giving up his will so completely that he no longer seeks, expects or desires to do ought but that which God wills. —St. Bernard of Clairvaux