How often do you find yourself filled with worry or anxiety over the problems of your daily life? We frequently look for solutions to various challenges and pray for specific outcomes as we would like to see things untangled in our lives according to our limited human understanding of the problem. Many of us are so busy trying to work through our day-to-day lives, by the choices we make and the actions we take, that we sometimes we forget who really is in charge.
A French Jesuit priest, Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade (1675-1751), has some very simple wisdom to help us relieve the anxiety in our lives. For a period of time, De Caussade was the spiritual director for the Nuns of the Visitation in Nancy, France. He wrote letters of spiritual direction to the nuns, which were preserved and later assembled into a book called Abandonment to Divine Providence – a book he did not know he was writing at the time. This little book is just over 100 pages but contains some profound insight into how we can maintain peace in our lives no matter what we are dealing with at the time. Today, I will highlight a few of the points he makes in the book.
The essential premise of De Caussade’s spirituality and approach to life is that if we entirely abandon ourselves to God’s will at the sacrifice of our own will, in any given situation, we will experience nothing but peace in our minds and our souls. I can imagine most people replying to this notion, “Sure, but it’s easier said than done.” However, De Caussade suggests that abandonment is actually very easy to do and we just like to get in our own way. The first thing he does is to define what it means to do God’s will. He identifies the difference between actively and passively obeying the will of God. To be actively obedient is to follow the laws of God and the precepts of the Church by means of initiating our will to obey them. To passively obey the will of God is to lovingly accept whatever God sends to us in every moment of every day (p. 22). According to De Caussade, neither active or passive obedience is difficult because, “He never drives anyone beyond his strength or ability” (p. 23). He even goes so far as to suggest that passive obedience is easier than active obedience because all we have to do is “accept what very often we cannot avoid” (p. 23). In other words, all we must do to achieve abandonment is to embrace every cross that God sees fit to send us with joy because it is for our own good, rather than dragging it behind us, kicking and screaming. In doing this, we are enabling God to act as a physician in our souls leading us to perfection and healing. We do not need to understand why our cross is good for us in order for it to work, just as we do not necessarily need to understand the science behind the pill our doctor gives us in order for it to cure us (p. 25). All that is required of us is childlike acceptance.
De Caussade goes on to tell us that the easiest way to embrace God’s will, even in the form of a cross, is to view every moment through the eyes of Faith. “The will of God often appears repulsive, but faith enables us to see it as it really is…If we know that someone in disguise is really our king we shall behave very differently toward him than will someone who sees only an ordinary man. He will treat him as such. Now, if we see the will of God in the most trifling affairs, in every misfortune, and in every disaster, we shall accept them all with an equal joy, delight, and respect. What others fear and flee from, we shall welcome with open doors” (p. 36). With eyes of faith, our crosses are no longer pointless dead weight, but gifts from our King that act as tools for our holiness and sanctification and even the most humiliating of circumstances become opportunities to bring glory to the will of God.
Another key ingredient for abandonment to the will of God, according to De Caussade, is to not only live in the present moment, but to “embrace the present moment as an ever-flowing source of holiness” (p. 34). It is probably harder today than at any other time in history to live strictly in the present moment. I find it hard to imagine the nuns in the 17th and 18th centuries had too many distractions from keeping them in the present moment. For us, things like technology, social media, the news, and access to information keep us focused everywhere else, except where we are in the here and now. So, we have to work extra hard to stay in the present moment and not give ourselves over to the anxiety that we experience due to things outside of ourselves and our control. However, if we can do that, De Caussade says, “…the present moment is always overflowing with immeasurable riches, far more than you are able to hold” (p. 39). This means we must stop chasing some perceived ideal outcome and open ourselves to the blessing that God has to offer us right now. Of course, in our humanity, when we are suffering through something in the present moment that is painful and we do not understand, it is hard for us to see how it is a moment for riches. De Caussade tells us:
You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances, and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies – though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet his beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is. (p. 45)
For abandonment to be possible, we must stop looking at these moments of suffering through our human and worldly eyes and instead look at them through the eyes of faith and recognize that they are indeed a gift, meant for our own growth in holiness.
Finally, De Caussade tells us that another key of abandonment to divine providence is detachment from the world and created things. When we empty our hearts and detach from the desire of any particular thing or outcome, we make more room for God and His will to take hold (p. 64). Sure, it would be really nice if God would answer our prayer this way or that, but clinging to that desire edges His will out over our own. “If we wish to enjoy an abundance of blessings, we have only one thing to do: purify our hearts by emptying them of all desire for created things and surrender ourselves wholly to God. By doing this we shall get all we want” (p. 66). This means we actually will be happier with our present circumstances than we would be if things were going our own way because God’s will for us is always greater than our own.
This is not an exhaustive examination of De Caussades’s book, but hopefully the few points I’ve highlighted have inspired you to explore how you might might apply abandonment to God’s will more fully in your life, whatever it may be. This week, think about the things you are personally holding on to that are not fully allowing you to give yourself completely over to the will of God. How will letting those things go bring you peace? What is the worst thing that can happen if you let something go and just give it over to God in faith and trust that all will be well?
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