MAN OF THE HOUSE | God’s consolation opens our eyes and hearts to greater gratitude
I like to accept compliments, to receive congratulations. I like to garner praise.
Who doesn't delight in hearing nice things about himself, right? Who doesn't enjoy having good efforts recognized? Externally, we might react with humility: "Please, anyone could have done that." We might dismiss it: "Come on, it wasn't anything special." We might display embarrassment and simple graciousness: "Thank you for saying that." But inside, it feels really good.
That's okay. That's human.
Still, it often seems to be a flaw. Hearing good things about myself is something I need. I relish the admiration. Sometimes, if people are silent with me, it seems I'm not liked or appreciated.
For much of my life, some of my sense of self-worth has been tied to affirmation from other people. No, I haven't yet turned to that "pop psychology" tactic of looking in the mirror to say: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" I am trying to be more cognizant of the feeling, however.
I suspect many feel similarly. But I don't want to expect that from people.
I also don't want to expect that from God. Interestingly, this isn't just a psychological thing for me; the desire for affirmation is spiritual as well. Yes, I realize God loves me, but sometimes I yearn to feel it overtly, clearly, powerfully. I want occasional spiritual consolation, even asking for it in prayer. Certainly, I'm not alone in that among human beings. "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy" (Psalm 94).
The word "consolation" can be defined as comfort, refreshment of mind. St. Ignatius stated: "I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all."
The opposite of spiritual consolation is desolation. And in many of my moments of desolation, I ask God for a little pick-me-up, a little comfort, a bit of consolation. "Give me strength, God. Let me feel your presence. Show me you love me. Let me know you forgive me." Frankly, I ask such things even when life is good. I just want to know and feel assurance.
Why do we dare to test God that way? Because consolation strengthens us, bring us closer to God. Once we have this peace of mind, we forget our despair and return our focus to Him. We again emphasize the joys and sorrows of other people, to find inspiration and energy, because consolation opens our eyes and hearts to greater gratitude.
Understanding all that, God often affirms His love for us and communicates His pleasure with us by sending consolation even before we ask. In my case, I tried not to ask during a time of despair a few months ago. Yet God knew.
I had connected with an old friend and former newspaper colleague some time before then on Facebook. Out of the blue last year, she sent me a message of gratitude. She said another former colleague and I had played a huge role in leading her to fall in love with Jesus and become a Christian.
I had no idea my words or actions had affected Wendy that way, even a little. And it may have had only a little effect. In a moment of my distress, though, Wendy's encouragement gave me reason to hope.
"Be quite sure that God will bless you," St. Therese of Liseux said, "and that the depths of your sufferings will be matched by the consolation reserved for you."
A couple of weeks before Christmas, Wendy lost her battle with brain cancer. As I think about her, I realize that this special woman, one of the kindest and sweetest I ever have known, likely gets to look at the face of God for all eternity. Someone I know, a friend of mine, is almost certainly in heaven. And maybe I helped, just a little, point her that direction.
How's that for consolation?
Eisenbath is a member of St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.
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