A few years ago, I mentioned that one of my favorite quotes is this famous saying, usually attributed to Ignatius of Loyola:
Work as if everything depended on you, pray as if everything depended on God.
Love that! What it seemed to be saying was, “Work hard, pray hard.” This really resonated with the way I like to do things.
Then I got some emails from readers saying: That is probably not the correct version of the quote. Evidently, what St. Ignatius actually said was more along the lines of:
Work as if everything depended on God, pray as if everything depended on you.
I haven’t been able to find a source for the quote either way, so I’m not positive that this second one is correct. But quite a few knowledgeable people have emailed me to say that it is accurate, and it’s given me a lot to ponder. There’s a surprising amount of wisdom contained in this second quote. Consider:
Pray as if everything depended on you
Imagine that the leaders of the ten most populous countries were going to gather for a meeting about how they could usher in an era of peace and harmony, and they were going to invite one speaker to come and give them advice: You. Through some crazy circumstance, you were the sole person picked to address this group, and the FATE OF ALL HUMANITY hung in the balance of what you said. Can you imagine how hard you’d pray? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know if I would do anything but pray.
The thing that works about this advice is that high-pressure moments bring our weaknesses into relief. In daily life, it’s easy to try to control everything, to think and act like we have to need of God, because we are gods. But then when we are put in positions where we’re actually in charge of high-stakes situations, our mentality shifts. We see with startling clarity just how feeble we really are, and how unworthy we are of being in control of much of anything. At least in my experience, rarely are my prayers more passionate and sincere than when I end up in control of an important situation, and I feel like everything depends on me.
Work as if everything depended on God
When I first heard this version of the quote, I interpreted it to mean, “Be lazy.” It tells you a fair amount about my personality type that I thought, Sweet. If that’s true, then I can sit around and do nothing and trust that God will handle everything. I’m not wasting time on Twitter, I’m just following St. Ignatius’ advice and working as if everything depends on God (i.e., not at all)!
But I think that maybe, just maybe, I misunderstood what that advice is getting at. The quote, if correct, doesn’t say, “Don’t bother doing any work, because it all depends on God anyway.” Rather, the spirit of it is that we shouldn’t work in a frantic, controlling way. We should work diligently but peacefully, and not be afraid to rest when it’s time to rest.
Over at the Country Monks blog, Fr. Mark Stengel summed it up well when he wrote:
If I pray as if everything depends on me, I would have to pray with a greater sense of urgency and need, recognizing my own inadequacy. I would have to pray for the wisdom and strength that I will need. I would need to seek forgiveness and humility, so that my past sins and my present flaws might not be stumbling blocks for those I am trying to serve.
If I work as if everything depends on God, then I will go forward with greater confidence and energy, since the work to be done is in more capable hands than my own. If the outcome is in God’s hands, then I will perhaps be able to persevere in the face of opposition and apparent poor results. If it all depends on God, then I will not hesitate to “step out of the boat, “ out of my own comfort zone, as I try to serve. And if God is in charge, then He will not allow my mistakes to ruin His work, but will make all things work together unto good.
Anyway, again, I’m not positive that the second version is even right. But even if it’s not, I think it contains a lot of rich food for thought. Which version makes most sense to you? Does anyone know for sure which one is correct?
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