Mystical Mondays: When Your Boostraps Are Too Short


EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from the book I wrote with Eric Sandras entitled Mystics, Mavericks & Miracle Workers: A 30-Day Journey with Some Saints. Enjoy!


St. John of the Cross’s thoughts:
This is the first and principal benefit caused by this arid and dark night of contemplation: the knowledge of oneself and of one’s misery. For, besides the fact that all the favors which God grants to the soul are habitually granted to them enwrapped in this knowledge, these aridities and this emptiness of the faculties, compared with the abundance which the soul experienced aforetime and the difficulty which it finds in good works, make it recognize its own lowliness and misery, which in the time of its prosperity it was unable to see. Of this where is a good illustration in the Book of Exodus, where God, wishing to humble the children of Israel and desiring that they should know themselves, commanded them to take away and strip off the festal garments and adornments …

Wherefore the soul knows the truth that it knew not at first, concerning its own misery; for, at the time when it was clad as for a festival and found in God much pleasure, consolation and support, it was somewhat more satisfied and contented, since it thought itself to some extent to be serving God. It is true that such souls may not have this idea explicitly in their minds; but some suggestion of it at least is implanted in them by the satisfaction which they find in their pleasant experiences. But now that the soul has put on its other and working attire—that of aridity and abandonment—and now that its first lights have turned into darkness, it possesses these lights more truly in this virtue of self-knowledge, which is so excellent and so necessary, considering itself now as nothing and experiencing no satisfaction in itself; for it sees that it does nothing of itself neither can do anything.
— from Dark Night of the Soul, Book the First, Chapter XII

God’s Thoughts:

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.  But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted!  My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father.” — Jesus @ St. John 15:4-8 (NLT)

Thoughts of others:

• “God is our true Friend, who always gives us the counsel and comfort we need. Our danger lies in resisting Him; so it is essential that we acquire the habit of hearkening to His voice, or keeping silence within, and listening so as to lose nothing of what He says to us.”
— Francois Fenelon, theologian

• “The best place any Christian can ever be in is to be totally destitute and totally dependent upon God, and know it.”
— Alan Redpath, pastor and author

• “I sought no more than how to be God’s and God’s alone. My goal made me resolve to give my all for the All.”
— Brother Lawrence, author

Jason’s Thoughts:
One night I put my head in my hands, pushed back a few tears and thought I just can’t do this anymore. At the age of 23, I was running a sports staff for a daily newspaper and finding out that it was more than I could handle. The more I pushed myself, the more I felt I might completely break down. In our Western world, there is a line of thinking that runs contrary to a biblical worldview. We say to ourselves, “We can do whatever we want to do all by ourselves. Just will yourself to do it and whatever you want to do will get done.” It’s the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. And it’s all a farce.

Instead of just trying harder, I collected my thoughts and decided to take a different course. I called a meeting and told the sports staff that I was incapable of producing an award-winning sports section each day on my own—and that they would be getting more opportunities. The stronger writers would be writing more. The crisper editors would be editing more. The designers would be designing more. We would all play to one another’s strengths and see what would happen. No more bootstrap mentality.

This kind of thinking spills over into our relationship with God. If I just try harder maybe I’ll be able to overcome the addiction that heaps guilt and shame on my head each day. Or maybe I can help more people. Or maybe I can live a more righteous life. Or maybe I can …

St. John of the Cross discovered that when God is ready to purge our heart and fill it anew with love for him and him alone, he starts by shaking the core of our thinking. No, we can’t do it on our own. We need him. Apart from him, we can do nothing! But isn’t that admitting our weakness? Isn’t that admitting our ineptitude? Yes! That’s exactly what it is! We are weak and inept … without God.

God is working diligently to get us to the point where we realize that He wants to use us to change the world—but He wants us to do it with Him. We can’t be the hands and feet of Jesus simply because we just will ourselves to be that way. Our own strengths and abilities will only take us so far. And frankly, that course is one that beats me down and leaves me bone dry. Shouldn’t we desire to have the source of all strength filling us with holy power to accomplish his will on earth here and now?

Your Thoughts:
1) St. John of the Cross said we see our true identity when held up to the light of God’s true identity. How do you view yourself in light of who God is? Why?

2) In what ways do you depend upon God in your daily living? What are some areas that you can identify where you withhold from asking God for help?

3) What types of things have you found you are able to do with God that you weren’t able to do without Him?

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