Monday, October 31, 2005

Abandonment Issues

Some people have what are commonly called today “abandonment issues,” meaning some psychological or emotional affliction or impediment stemming from the childhood experience of a parent’s death or departure, or practically any sort of rejection by a “significant other” at any stage of life. It’s not my intention here to discuss legitimate claims vs. spurious ones, but rather to look at quite a different type of abandonment issue, one we are actually called to embrace for our spiritual well-being and salvation.

This issue is called “abandonment to divine providence,” and J.P. de Caussade, SJ, has written a classic book with that very title. In this case “abandonment” is practically equivalent with “surrender,” that is, a letting go into the merciful and loving hands of God, trusting Him absolutely with everything that makes up your life, external circumstances as well as interior movements of the soul. What we abandon is our pride and deceptive sense of self-sufficiency, our fears, anxieties and doubts, and entrust the direction of our life to the Lord who never abandons us, contrary subjective impressions notwithstanding.

I’ll let Fr de Caussade speak for himself: “In reality, holiness consists in one thing alone, namely, fidelity to God’s plan… The active practice of fidelity consists in accomplishing the duties imposed upon us by the general laws of God and the Church, and by the particular state of life which we have embraced. Passive fidelity consists in the loving acceptance of all that God sends us at every moment…” Those who would abandon themselves to divine providence “have only to fulfill the simple duties of the Catholic faith and of their state of life, to accept with submission the crosses that go with those duties, and to submit with faith and love to the designs of Providence in everything that is constantly being presented to them to do and to endure, without searching for anything themselves… The whole essence of the spiritual life consists in recognizing the designs of God for us at the present moment.”

One must certainly have faith (the size of a mustard seed, anyway) to live the life of abandonment to God’s providence and will. But faith is sufficient to carry us through. “There is nothing that faith does not penetrate and surmount. It passes beyond all darkness, and no matter how deep the shadows, it passes through them to the truth which it always firmly embraces and from which it is never separated… We should abandon ourselves purely and entirely to God’s design, and thus, with a complete self-forgetfulness, be eternally busied with loving and obeying Him, without all these fears, reflections, twistings and turnings and disquietudes which sometimes result from the care of our own salvation and perfection. Since God offers to manage our affairs for us, let us once for all hand them over to his infinite wisdom… let us pass the labyrinth of our own self-love by vaulting over it and not by following it out in all its interminable details…”

For him the will of God is everything, and our abandonment to it the chief work of our lives. “Of what use are the sublimest lights or divine revelations when one does not love the will of God? That way Lucifer was lost… I thank [God] for everything in advance, desiring only and in everything his holy will, because I am convinced by faith and by many personal experiences that everything comes from God, and that He is powerful enough and a good enough Father to bring all issues to the best advantage of his dear children… Nothing happens in this world but by the order of God or at least by his divine permission, and all that He wills or permits turns infallibly to the advantage of submissive souls. Even that which most upsets our spiritual plans turns into something which is better for us… the most efficacious method of interior advance is a simple acquiescence in all that God wills… So remain in great peace and tranquility in the presence of Him who sees the depths of the heart… He needs none of the gifts you can offer Him, but He loves the heart which is prepared for all sacrifices.”

If we can hold on to this vision of life in God, we will discover its truth in practice and will be able to live in peace and trust. If a Christian cannot live with confidence in the goodness, providence, and all-wise will of God, he cannot live as a Christian. Abandonment issues? You bet!