Fear, anger, frustration, failure, longing, wishing, helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness, rage, indignation, and embarrassment: in my spiritual walk, I have genuinely experienced each of these emotions more than a time or two. Sometimes God and I are not on speaking terms. The other day, though, I actually learned something about an emotion that I somehow ruled out of the spectrum that surrounds my daily struggles with spiritual growth and my relationship with the Almighty, sadness. Somehow I relegated this emotion to a personal glitch or flaw and something that I caused myself or became victimized by as a result of my failings. Wow!
I was listening to our local Catholic radio station. On a segment called The Inner Life, Father Eric Nielsen, pastor of the Saint Paul University Catholic Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was commenting. The topic of the day was: sloth. For those who came to faith after Vatican II this term might be arcane or unfamiliar. Today we have replaced it with terms like: spiritual indifference, laziness, idleness or indolence. Like many friends and acquaintances I have been tilting at this “spiritual growth” thing for years. I am an active Catholic, I have an extensive prayer life and I have served the Church in many capacities. So, I am more than surprised when a teaching/term turns up that I am not familiar with. I must admit that Father Nielsen took me by surprise.
I don’t spend a lot of time ruminating on the past, regretting things, or wishing for revenge. Spiritually, these are all a particular kind of poison that will derail any attempts toward getting to know God in a more intimate way. Sadness, though, shows up sometimes, especially when I least expect it. I’ve been retired for a while now and as a senior I am confronted with the loss of youth and many of the powers I had when I was young as well as the earthly departure of those close to me and those who I was young with. Sometimes sadness makes its way into these situations.
It’s easy enough to linger in the sadness that happens during these times and not necessarily a bad thing or a character flaw. In the teaching Father offered I find a kind of wake up. It is a piece of wisdom that makes me re-think or move in another direction. His quote on sloth was this: “Sloth is the sadness that overcomes us when we realize that the good is difficult to attain.” What’s interesting about this quote is that it applies in any situation. When you are young, attaining the good means one thing. As you age it means another. As a senior, sadness is not an unusual emotion at the funeral of a dear one, but then the question becomes what to do with that and how to keep moving? Sadness stops us cold and the desire to stay in the sadness can be overwhelming. More than that, though, it is a useful barometer. Pay attention, after you move past the sadness, what does the Lord want you to work on next? It’s probably not more sadness!
Copyright© 2015, Kathryn M. Cunningham