Planning to do great things for God

November 9, 2007 | Books I Love, Daily Spirituality, Motherhood, Prayer | 12 comments

When I first sat down to read Finding God’s Will For You back in late July, I was in “nesting mode” for the impending arrival of my third baby. Now, what “nesting mode” means for me is probably different than what it means for other people. I think that, for most women, it means that they get their houses all cleaned up and organized before the new baby comes. For me, it means sitting around and drawing up grand plans that will take my house from plain and cluttered to something fit for a spread in Architectural Digest in about three weeks. My plans are so grand that when I go to start the work I end up shuffling around in an unfocused daze, hopping from one to-do item to the next, working hard but having only unfinished projects to show for my effort.

So as I sat in bed one July night, a pile of clothes stacked on the floor in the corner from an unfinished closet reorganization attempt and a stack of boxes at the foot of my bed for a storage project that never got off the ground, it once again felt like St. Francis de Sales was talking directly to me when I started reading. In discussing how to determine which “inspirations” are from God and which are from a more malevolent force, he writes:

We should not want to practice many exercises at the same time and all of a sudden. The enemy often tries to make us attempt and start many projects so that we will be overwhelmed with too many tasks, and therefore achieve nothing and leave everything unfinished. Sometimes he even suggests we undertake some excellent work that he foresees we will never accomplish. This is to distract us from the prosecution of some less excellent work that we would have easily completed. […]

Very often…the evil one deludes us, and to distract us from achieving some good, he proposes another that seems better.

It only took a quick glance around my bedroom to see that this was advice that I really needed to hear. Not that any one unfinished household project was a big deal, but in total they spoke of a life of distraction and disorder, as well as a certain level of sloth — when a project got challenging and required discipline and hard work to carry it through, I would suddenly be “inspired” by a far better, more valuable task that I could go start.

St. Francis continues:

Just as a shrub that is often transplanted cannot take root and, as a result, cannot come to maturity and yield the desired fruit, so the soul that transplants its heart from plan to plan cannot profit or gain proper growth in perfection, since perfection does not consist in beginnings but in accomplishments. […]

Possession of a little treasure actually found is worth more than expectation of a greater one we must still go out to seek. An inspiration urging us to give up some true good we already posses in order to pursue a future better good is suspect.

Until I read this it had never occurred to me that a spiritual attack could come in the form of a suggestion of a good plan. I assumed that as long as I wasn’t being tempted to do anything sinful that I must be on the right path. But then, thinking of my recent attempts at regular prayer, it was glaringly obvious that suggestions of good — even great — things could be dangerous hindrances to spiritual growth.

For example, for months I had been planning to incorporate daily prayer into my routine. Each night I thought about praying before bed, but my circumstances were never “good enough”. The only prayer I could muster tonight would be a quick, sleepy, rushed endeavor, so I should really wait until tomorrow, when I’ll have everything under control to have time to pray a full Rosary. And, really, I should have a special place in the house to pray to put me in a properly reverent state of mind — how uninspired would my prayers be if I simply said them while lying in bed! In fact, I should designate a separate area for prayer in my room, complete with a table for a Bible and a prayer book, candles, maybe even a kneeler! I wonder if I could find a cheap kneeler online? And maybe some incense…

And so on and so on. Meanwhile, no actual praying was getting done.

Now, I don’t know whether that was an actual spiritual attack or not, but I do know that my planning to do great things to glorify God in prayer were not actually glorifying God. I was just wasting time. And I was surprised at how hard it was to change.

Inspired by this advice, I decided that every night I will simply kneel down at the side of my bed, cross myself, and say a quick prayer. If I am able to do more, I will. But I will at least do that. It’s not as much as I’d like to do, there are so many “better” options, but at least it will get done. Simple enough, right? Not for me. Every single night I still hear myself think something like, “Kneeling down at the side of the bed? That’s for children! The real way to show respect for God would be to go downstairs to the office, light a candle, read from the Bible for a few moments, then spend at least thirty minutes in deep prayer. Now, of course, there’s not time for that tonight. Maybe you could just do it tomorrow…”

It’s been surprisingly difficult to silence this voice that always suggests “better” options for growing in my newfound faith. But, when I have been able to stop planning and just do it, the results have been great. Almost every night I do kneel down and say a very quick, very imperfect prayer, and I have received very noticeable grace from it. The past few weeks have been difficult ones in terms of sleep deprivation and the usual challenges that go with having a three-year-old, a one-year-old and a two-month-old, yet I have felt closer to God than at almost any other point. I think a large part of it is from following St. Francis’ advice and simply keeping my head down and getting things done, even if they’re only very small and humble tasks, even when I’m strongly tempted to wander off to do something “better”.

As I kneel to say my little prayer, even though it’s not long enough or serious enough; as I put that stack of books on the shelf, even though I haven’t had time to create that grand Master Plan for Book Shelf Categorization; as I clean up the house before my husband comes home, even though it’s still pretty messy, I realize that this is how you glorify God. As Mother Teresa once said in her famous quote, God doesn’t expect us to do great things in life, only small things with great love.

12 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    It sounds like you and I are cut from the same cloth. I too make grand plans and more often than not, they are not fulfilled. Your comment about waiting to start your daily prayer until you could create a proper prayer corner really hit home. I have had the exact same conversation with myself! Thank you for sharing the insights you gained from reading that book. I think I’ll have to get a copy for myself. I really enjoy your blog.

  2. Deb

    I have had Grand Plans too, only to see them unfulfilled. Your comments about doing the small things hit home to me.
    I’ll have to add St. Frances’ book to my reading list. I work in a public library so my reading list is rather extensive. 🙂

  3. Anonymous

    St. Teresa of Avila had a similar revelation. I have an index card on my desk with a quote from the Interior Castle –
    “..sometimes the devil gives us great desires so that we will avoid setting ourselves to the task at hand, serving our Lord in possible things, and instead be content with having desired the impossible.

  4. Terri

    I so need to read this book. It sounds as if it was written just for me. I love your posts. I always come away with something inspiring.

  5. patjrsmom

    I shared recently on my blog a meditation by Thomas Merton that really speaks to what your post is about. God is truly pleased with any effort you make to know, love and serve Him. Kneeling in reverence by the side of your bed may not seem like much, but can we *ever* do enough to show as much reverence is required? God knows your heart and loves and blesses your every effort, no matter how small.
    Jane

  6. Melanie B

    Thanks, Jen, a timely reminder. Your description of your half-finish projects could be one of my house!
    Yesterday afternoon found me rushing around to straighten up the house before having friends over for dinner. As I was clearing off the guest bed, moving into a corner all the piles and boxes and bags of my half-finished project of sorting out the baby clothes to put them all away perfectly, I wondered why it was so hard to just do it. Yet again, I’ve let the ideal of the perfect storage system get in the way of just dealing with what needs to be done.

    And recently I’ve found myself turning off the light without praying because I’m too tired to say my usual prayers. I also need to remember what I already knew: that any short prayer is better than none.

    Another thing I learned when I was first starting to say the Liturgy of the Hours regularly was that waiting until I was in a perfect state of mind was very detrimental. I started to force myself to open the book and start praying even when I was exhausted and to push on even when I was falling asleep. I’d close my eyes and drift off and then catch myself nodding. But I learned to push on, continuing where I thought I’d left off rather than trying to go back and start again. Eventually I managed the self discipline to pray every night and every morning even if I did fall asleep. But it’s a lesson I have to re-learn every four to six months or so when I start skipping because I’m too tired.

  7. Kiwi Nomad 2006

    I am slightly anaemic at present. One of the ‘good things’ about this is that I do actually become slightly calmer. I know I get too tired if I do too many things, so I find I tend to ‘plan better’ and slow down to actually achieve at least one thing properly!!

  8. Anonymous

    Having spent a big part of this day … really ‘getting it done’ instead of shifting from one pile to another … I enjoyed your writing and those comments.
    I thought I was the only person that did that. That is what I tell myself, when I decided it is just because I am lazy … and if I really wanted to do it, I would find the time.
    As for praying, I do it morning and night … and still do it in bed. A few nights ago … thanks to a new pain med … I fell asleep while praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I have been praying that for years, often in bed … and had never failed to finish it. But while on that med, I will do it sitting up in a room with some light. (I do know it by heart, and say the Stations of the Cross with it … but I felt if I turned out the light, I just might sleep in my recliner all night ;-(
    I found you from my nephew, Dean Marshall … and am glad I did.
    My blog is on … macilehooperlejeune. com.
    Jesus put it upon my heart; our son built the website … and the land I inherited from Mama with a mineral lease on it paid the way.
    Ya’ll come on over; and … for today … have a good and holy weekend. DIEU TE BENISSE!!! GOD BLESS!!! Je t’aime (sincerley, my friends) … Cajun Sissy Macile

  9. Catholic Bibliophagist

    Wow! That post, and the quote from St. Francis de Sales, really hit me between the eyes. What you describe is so familiar, the temptation to postpone doing certain things until “tomorrow” when the circumstances will be better. At my age you can really see how all those “tomorrows” in which you were going to get around to using the good silver or having a more structured prayer life have become might-have-been yesterdays.

  10. stef

    Wow, I really needed to read that. (And the weird thing is, I *know* I’ve read that before, but it didn’t stick, unfortunately! I’ll have to get that book!) Especially at 2:49 in the morning; I woke up, couldn’t get back to sleep, because my mind was filled with PLAAAAAANS. So I got up, and now I’ve been on the PC for an hour, planning my grand plans, and nothing actually DONE. Time to get off:)

  11. Sebastian

    Wow, just Wow.

  12. Helena

    Wonderful post – just what I needed to hear today. Thank you so much for it!

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