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On achievement, anxiety and getting out of God’s way


Tod Worner - published on 07/31/17

I’ve spent an awful lot of my life trying to achieve something.

Get straight A’s. Become class president. Start for the football team. Get elected to that college organization. Give that graduation speech. Get into medical school. Run that marathon. Sing that solo. Teach that class. Write for that organization. And so on and so on and so on.

Aspire. Achieve. Excel.

But this dogged cycle for success always ends up a little empty. No achievement is good enough. Satisfaction is fleeting. Enduring peace is elusive.

That’s because I am often chasing the wrong thing. I am in hot pursuit of the substitutes for God.

A young Flannery O’Connor wrote poignantly about this in her Prayer Journal.

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside. 

And even St. Thomas Aquinas, devoting himself to the holy work writing the Summa Theologiae had a revelation that changed everything. When asked why he wouldn’t continue his writing, he answered.

The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.

Clearly, I am no Flannery O’Connor or St. Thomas Aquinas, but I am capable of learning some of the lessons they learned (albeit slowly). When it comes to God’s work in my life, so often I am in the way. And I need help pushing myself aside.

That is why my friend’s advice was so welcome. It wasn’t necessarily advice designed for me, but it sure could have been. Rube is a therapist working at a Christian counseling center on the East Coast. There have been no small number of Rube’s insights that have graced my writing over the years. Here is what Rube advises many of his clients who approach him with anxiety or depression, listlessness and aimlessness.

Go to daily Mass.

In being quiet, in worship, in holy openness, we are changed. It is God who is changing us, not we who are changing ourselves. Suddenly, we are ordering our lives rightly because we are not ordering our lives – God is. We are pushing ourselves aside. Our meager daily ambitions are as so much straw.

This advice was so refreshing because it spoke to the root of my problem. My life had been consumed with my priorities to enact my plan to control my destiny. And it left little honest room for God. The prescription of daily Mass reminded me that the exercise of my life must begin with the exercise of my faith. I needed the reminder that true deference is owed to the majority partner, Jesus Christ.

While, honestly, I have yet to make it regularly to daily Mass (due to logistics I am trying to work out), but I am working on it. But Rube’s advice shook me and allowed me to glimpse a bit of what Flannery and Thomas Aquinas saw.

Namely, that God is here…if only we will get out of the way so we can see him.

Thanks, Rube.

That’s great advice.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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