A reflection on my personal struggle with acedia, spiritual apathy
The following is an excerpt from my personal journal, dated 4/23/17:
Maybe I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Your grace and mercy are inexhaustible because I am exhausted. I have a nasty habit of projecting myself onto You. I am tired of me, so how are you not? It must be like watching a mouse go around and around in a maze despite the number of times You have directed me to the correct path.
You lead, I stray. That’s how this [has] gone my whole life, and I don’t know why it is so difficult to just go the way You say. I knew from the start the path would be jagged. I knew that if I said “yes” to You, I would be plunged into the fire and purged. How many times have You put it into my heart that swords are forged in flame[?]
I don’t know where You want me to go. What do You want me to do? Because either way, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that you have great things planned for me. And I’m afraid that you have a very humble and meek calling for me. I want and don’t want both or either. But even more, I hate this skittering back-and-forth. This apathetic restlessness.
I cannot spend the rest of my life a lukewarm Catholic.
Is it better that I try until I feel, or feel it and then try? If I come [to You] out of obedience and not with my heart, is it better that I just stay home?
I’ve just returned from staffing an ACTS retreat over the weekend. Teaming with the ACTS apostolate is one of the very few things I feel like doing anymore. I love it. I love serving others in this ministry. I love spending four days and three nights on my feet. I love the way I feel after a retreat, this renewed yearning to go out and set the world on fire even when my body is exhausted. The only issue is that I rely heavily on these feelings to be what carries me out of my spiritual apathy and into a new era of my faith; a renewal of my caring to do what God wants me to do. Every year I tell myself, “use this retreat to kickstart your feelings and get back on track”.
And every retreat, I don’t.
I, like many Catholic-Christians the world over, rely on my emotions to carry my faith. I don’t feel like praying or attending Mass or going to confession, so I don’t. I even asked a very good friend of mine, who is a newly ordained priest, if it’s better not to go to confession since I would be going more out of obedience than out of an overwhelming feeling of guilt and pain over doing things that have pained God. He lovingly explained the difference between perfect and imperfect contrition, and strongly suggested I GO!
You see, I have found myself in the grips of the noonday devil, acedia. And not in the manner that I think I’m possessed or anything so dramatic, but that I just don’t care to do the things I know I ought. I have found myself in this sort of restless stasis, not caring to fulfill the duties of my vocation as a wife and mother, or as one of 1.2 billions Catholics in this world who make up the Church. Both because I feel nothing, and because doing what I should doesn’t really guarantee that I will feel anything.
I don’t pray enough. I don’t attend Mass on even a semi-regular basis. I’ve put off going to confession by any means possible. I have put off having our youngest baptized, or putting our older children in faith formation to receive their sacraments. I always find something “better” or “more important” to do. I always tell myself, “I can do it later”, and I watch the seconds and hours and days and weeks pass while I remain stagnant so far as the laws of time allow. And all because I don’t feel like doing it.
Most of us have heard or read Jesus’ words to Peter when he finds the apostles asleep in the garden just before He is arrested: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The issue with acedia is that neither the flesh nor the spirit are willing.
In essence, I have dropped out of the fight because I don’t feel God’s presence at all times, because I don’t feel divinely energized by the Holy Spirit, because I in all my imperfect humanness don’t feel like doing what God wants me to do. The Lord knows that I lack obedience, that I lack the discipline to act when told to act and go where I am told to go simply because I rely too heavily on emotion and spiritual fuzzies. Instead I sit back and wait for–like I said–divine inspiration to carry me to Mass or confession, or to the church office to sign my children up for formation and baptism.
Even now, in this post, I feel like I’m scrambling in circles, all while the Lord stands off to the side with this “seriously, child?” look on His face. He’s holding a map and a torch, offering me everything I need to quench His thirst for souls, and all I want to do is snuff the torch and stuff the map in my pocket because I am tired–body and soul. I am tired of caring, and somewhat resentful that I ever learned the Truth in the first place because now I can never not know, and so I can never feign ignorance to what is expected/wanted/needed of me.
If that seems… harsh, I know. But I really try to be candid about things even when it bites me in the rear at times. And I know that I’m not the only one suffering with this exact issue, this acedia and this selfish pride as if the Lord owes me warm fuzzies simply for doing what He tells me.
Anyways, here’s the full excerpt on spiritual sloth by St. John of the Cross in “The Dark Night”:
As to spiritual sloth, beginners are wont to find their most spiritual occupations irksome, and avoid them as repugnant to their taste; for, being so given to sweetness in spiritual things, they loathe such occupations when they find no sweetness. If they miss once this sweetness in prayer which is their joy, – it is expedient that God should deprive them of it in order to try them – they will not resume it; at other times they omit it, or return to it with a bad grace. Thus, under the influence of sloth they neglect the way of perfection – which is the denial of their will and pleasure for God – for the gratification of their own will, which they serve rather than the will of God. Many of these will have it that God should will what they will, and are afflicted when they must will what He wills, reluctantly submitting their own will to the will of God. As a result, they often imagine that what is not according to their will is also not according to the will of God; and, on the other hand, when they are pleased, they believe that God is pleased. They measure Him by themselves, and not themselves by Him. . . . They also find it wearisome to obey when they are commanded to do what they like not; and because they walk in the way of consolation and spiritual sweetness, they are too weak for the rough trials of perfection. They are like persons delicately nurtured who avoid with heavy hearts all that is hard and rugged, and are offended at the cross wherein the joys of the spirit consist. The more spiritual the work they have to do, the more irksome do they feel it to be. And because they insist on having their own way and will in spiritual things, they enter on the “strait way that leadeth unto life” (Matt. 16:25), of which Christ speaks, with repugnance and heaviness of heart.