Soul Disturbance

Frances de Sales (1567-1622), a bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, was well known as a preacher and writer.

"Do not be anxious about anything," [the Apostle Paul instructs us in Phil. 4:6].

Anxiety is the source of various temptations in the spiritual life. How exactly does it come about?

Distress Ahead
Sadness is the grief we feel when we experience an evil contrary to our will. The evil may be exterior, such as poverty, sickness, or contempt; or interior, such as ignorance, spiritual dryness, discontent, or temptation. When the soul is conscious of some such trouble, it's downcast, and so sadness sets in.

Then at once we begin to try to get rid of the trouble and to find the means to shake it off. So far, we have done no wrong, for it is natural to desire good and shun what we see to be evil.

If we strive to be delivered from such troubles out of love of God, we will strive patiently, gently, humbly, and calmly, looking to God's goodness and providence for our deliverance rather than to our own diligence and efforts. But if self-love is our prevailing motive, we will get stirred up and wear ourselves out in seeking relief, as though everything depends more upon ourselves rather than upon God.

As a result, if we don't obtain what we want right away, we grow quite anxious and impatient. But that doesn't solve the problem; on the contrary, it makes it worse. In this way, we fall into an inreasonable state of anxiety and distress, with such a loss of strength and courage that we begin to imagine there is no cure for our trouble. You can see, then, how a disturbance in our soul, which may have been justified in the beginning, produces anxiety, and anxiety goes on to intensify our sadness. Such anxiety is the greatest evil, exept for sin, that can happen to the soul.

All Aflutter
Internal strife and sedition can ruin a nation and make it incapable of resisting a foreign invader. In the same way, if our heart is disturbed and anxious, it loses the strength both to maintain the virtues it has aquired and the power to resist the temptations of the evil one (who is quite ready to fish, as they say, in troubled waters).

As we've seen, anxiety arises from an excessive desire to be freed from some pressing evil or to obtain some hoped-for good. But ironically, nothing tends more to intensify the evil or to prevent enjoyment of the good than to be disturbed and anxious. Birds ensnared in nets and traps become inextricably entagled because they flutter and struggle so much.

Practicing Peace
Whenever you urgently desire to escape from a certain evil or to attain a certain good, strive above all else to keep a calm, restful spirit. Steady your judgment and will, then go quietly and easily after your goal, taking all the appropriate means to attain it.

By "easily" I don't mean "carelessly," but rather without hurry, trouble, or anxiety. Otherwise, instead of obtaining the goal you seek, you will hinder it, adding more and more to your perplexities.

Examine yourself often, at least every morning and night. If your soul has become anxious, make it a priority to bring it quietly back into the presence of God, placing all your hopes and affections under the direction of His holy will.

When you become aware that you are growing anxious, commend yourself to God, as the Apostle Paul urges, and resolve firmly not to take any steps whatever to obtain the result you desire until your disturbed state of mind is altogether quieted. Of course, this is the approach to take unless it's necessary to do something without delay. In that case, you must restrain yourself from acting impulsively, even when you must act immediately.

Finally, if you can lay your anxiety before a spiritual counselor, or at least before some trusty and devout friend, you may be sure you will find great comfort. The heart finds relief in telling its troubles to someone else.

This excerpt is adapted from de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life (1609).

~from Discipleship Journal, May/June 2009, pg. 66


Kemi said…
Thank you. I needed this and felt HIS holy hand lead me here.