At a meeting for spiritual direction with a Priest (Fr. Paul) who is a family friend, I opened up about a particularly distressing reality in my spiritual life—shared here for the sake of edification. What I tried to communicate in spiritual direction was this: while I don’t necessary struggle frequently with sins involving grave matter, my intention in even the “smallest” of sins is often very depraved. I related further that I believed this struggle to be connected with my past. A past plagued by rampant drug use and sexual sin, extreme anger, anxiety and depression, atheism and—most importantly for getting my point across—the virtual obliteration of any belief in moral truth. I was intellectually (but not emotionally) convinced that, if there is no God, anything goes. In short, I believed morality was a hoax. With surprising charity, Fr. Paul responded with this word of advice: I needed to discover my life’s true narrative.
For, my life (and yours) is a story. A story defined not nearly as much by our sinfulness as by God’s love. This can only be seen clearly in the light of Truth. That light had shone for me through Fr. Paul’s advice, which is why I offer it here. Below are three “action points” that he advised would be helpful for discovering my life’s true narrative, as well as some words of wisdom from Saintly figures of history.
- Recognize Divine Providence: Probably the most impactful thing Fr. Paul told me was that I should not see my life’s narrative as one of “death and then life”, but rather as one situated within a history of salvation. While it is true that I was dead in my sins, it is not true that God had given up on trying to save me, even though that meant letting me descend to rock bottom. Seeing this truth clearly, I was told, would help me to stop thinking according to death, and start thinking according to life and salvation. To some extent, we all struggle with “thinking according to death”. We plague ourselves by our thoughts, because we think according to our former way of life, as though Christ had not saved us from it. Recognizing God’s loving providence throughout the whole of our lives will help us to overcome this.
- Be Transformed By The Renewal Of Your Mind: Metanoia, a translation of the Greek μετάνοια, is conversion. Using the words of St. Paul, we could say that metanoia is being “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Paul described it to me quite simply. The brain, he said, is always full. Metanoia is the plucking up of that in the brain (or mind) that is destructive, and filling it in with a principle of the Gospel. In my case, this applies particularly to when I am tempted to act on depraved intentions, but it applies to all of us in some way. Keep in mind, it is not done merely by our own efforts. It can come about only through the power of Christ’s love operating in our lives.
- Contemplate The Person of Christ: One of the best means we have of allowing the power of Christ’s love to operate in our lives is contemplation of Him. His humanity, as Fr. Paul told me, is the sacrament par excellence. In other words, Christ’s humanity radiates divinity. Contemplation of Him thus draws us out of ourselves and directs our gaze toward Him, taking it off ourselves and our sinful frailty, by which we often define our life’s narrative. Thus, by contemplating Him, we dispose ourselves to becoming living testaments to the truth that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Contemplating Christ is essential to discovering the true narrative of our lives.
If you struggle with “thinking according to death”, with living by a false narrative that plagues you and holds you back from loving Christ fully, try putting the above action points into practice. I, for one, am confident they came from a holy Priest guided by the Holy Spirit and are worthy to live by. As you attempt to live them out in pursuit of discovering your life’s true narrative, you would do well to the remember the following words of Saint Augustine, a Saint whose life narrative was muddied with sins of every kind. In his Confessions, Augustine writes: “And above me hovered your mercy, faithful however far I strayed” (Book 3, Ch. 3). You might also find solace in these words of William Wilberforce, which I quoted in the closing of a previous article: “So true it is that a gracious hand leads us in ways that we know not, and blesses us not only without, but even against, our plans and inclinations.”