Dusting myself off…or Groundhog Day Revisited

So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marveling that you fell;—there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.[1]

Though couched in antiquated prose, it is very, very consoling that, among the encouragements to virtue, and the remonstrations concerning evil, St. Francis de Sales puts this chapter in about “Gentleness towards Ourselves.”  Perhaps this is a lost art in today’s age of “keeping up with the Joneses,” or rather, keeping up with whatever Apple or Google or the latest app portrays as “the way to be” today in the barrage of ads with which we are inundated incessantly.  It may seem rather incongruous to pit a 15th century Saint against Silicon Valley, but, Vegas odds-makers notwithstanding, I’m betting on Francis.

Addiction may seem a strong term for our “petty” little faults and failings, but what would you call it if you keep trying the same sin over and over and over again, expecting a different outcome.

Perhaps among the most insidious of these hidden addictions is our addiction of consumerism… “I’ve just got to have that.”  “Oh, I’ll run right out and get that.”  “Oh, I can’t live without that.”

When I look around and see the plethora of books that line my shelves that I have never read, never even cracked the spine, and, given my age and busy schedule, most likely never will, can I really face myself in the mirror and say that “I need that book.”  Can I look and gently ask: “What’s wrong with this picture?” And do we really need five boxes of Wheat Thins, or more incandescent light bulbs or another DVD or another pair of pants or more or more or more when you can only eat, use, see, wear, etc. one at a time??? Can I truly continue to ignore the weakness of my grasping will and not call this an addiction.

While the conscience alarm is sounding in the back of my brain, rather than being gentle with myself, I keep swinging on this crazy pendulum between white knuckling whatever I am  attempting to do or not to do at the present time and excusing myself when I eventually let go and indulge in whatever the addiction of the moment happens to be.  The white knuckling is simply a manifestation of my ego trying to live up to my pseudo image, my personal idol in direct defiance of the first commandment, which I worship and drag around with me wherever I go.  The excuses are my pandering to myself, the rear moon-view, if you will, of the same idol uncloaked; again, this time I failed and I need this chocolate ice cream to make myself feel better!  So there!  This futile pattern only results in frustration, self-incrimination, self-bullying, self, self, self and I, like Sisyphus, start up that same hill with the same rock aware that I am going to have the same outcome again…it’s Groundhog Day and déjà vu all over again….

Being gentle with myself includes humility in the recognition of my frailty and the acknowledgement that being weak and infirm, there is every possibility that I will fail, I will fall and that God’s response is to gentle but insistently get myself up, regretting I have offended God…again…and trusting in his ever present Mercy and Love, start over with faith and courage based, not on myself, but on keeping my sight on Jesus and my trust in my guide and leader, the Holy Spirit, to whom I am tethered securely as we venture upward on the mountain of faith.

I am not saying that I can do this without fail from now on…this is precisely the point, I can’t.  I am not even saying that I will remember it in the heat of the moment.  But, I thank You, God, You made me come face to face with a better way, a gentle way, Your gentle and meek of heart way, and with Your grace, Your help, Your reminders, Your inspiration, Your tether, I may just be able to let go of the white knuckle ledge; fall down on my knees; thank You, God, that Your are merciful as well as just; know that I can rely on You to help me once again; humbly realize that I can’t do it, where “it” is anything and everything, without Your being in yolk with me; and get to one knee and then up with the help of Your power and might motivating, urging, encouraging, and enabling me, and, with a prayer and thanksgiving and love for all that You do and give and are, take another feeble step on Your Way, not up the Sisyphusian mountain, but up the hill behind You to Calvary where lies my hope, my redemption, my salvation.  Amen.   Alleluia!!!

[1] St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to a Devout Life, III, 9, “On Gentleness towards Ourselves,” http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1567-1622,_Francesco_di_Sales,_Introduction_To_The_Devout_Life,_EN.pdf


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