Grace and Work

Posted: September 3, 2012 in Uncategorized
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A gem from  St. Theophan in The Art of Prayer:

“Complete serenity of mind is a gift of God; but this serenity is not given without our own intense effort. You will achieve nothing by your own efforts alone; yet God will not give you anything unless you work with all your strength. This is an unbreakable law.”

Many of the great spiritual guides and writers have described the same paradox; without dependence on God we can do nothing, without our own determined effort the grace goes unused. It is a dance of the spirit. And I have witnessed this phenomenon in my own life and in the spiritual lives of others.

At times I have navigated under my own steam, depending on my own power of mind or will to move forward, to solve the problem  or create the future. The result has not generally been a good one. But I have also succumbed to just the opposite, a kind of inactive reception of a grace that is wasted on me. That doesn’t work either. Finding the balance is the trick.

Many of us recently marveled at the Olympic prowess displayed by so many world-class athletes in London. They deserve our regard. Much of their performance seemed superhuman to us mere mortals. Of course, they were gifted with such ability. No amount of time or effort would have allowed me, for instance, to do any of that. You wouldn’t see me up on the uneven parallel bars or running the hurdles. Never did, never will. Abilities of this magnitude are given. Some have it and some don’t.

But none of those naturally gifted athletes would have been at those Olympics in the first place if it were not for years of dogged effort and determination, a tough training of body and fine-tuning of mind. The gift was matched with serious effort.

So goes the spiritual truth: Nothing is achieved by our own efforts alone; if we believe so, then the spiritual flame is extinguished. But the twin is liken unto it; the gift will not come unless we work with all our strength. There is room for neither pride nor sloth.

And we are left with the dual prayer, one for each pocket of the garment:

Without you, O God, I am nothing, I do nothing.
I make of your gift an offering of my life.

Both. At the same time. Together.

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