December 22, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – About a month ago I was sitting in the leather armchair in my living room. It was late at night and very quiet. I was reading something – I don’t remember what – when suddenly I fell to thinking.
Unfortunately what I fell to thinking about was work. I say unfortunately because I strive to be strict with the separation between work and personal life. I find that if I’m not strict, work has a nasty way of creeping up and seeping into those precious and necessary quiet hours of family, reading, thinking and prayer.
But this time around it was understandable. The following day more than a year’s work, and quite a few years’ worth of dreaming, was about to come to fruition: the following evening the new LifeSiteNews website was going to be launched.
Probably no one was quite as excited about this as me. I’d been thinking about this perhaps from the first day I started working for Lifesite over six years ago: why shouldn’t our website be just as good as that of any mainstream news network?
Ever since then I’d been looking for the opportune time to make this project happen. And once the opening presented itself earlier this year, I assumed the role of “project manager,” working with the design firm to hammer out the details for the site, and monitoring its execution.
For the past several weeks I had been extremely impatient to get the new site off the ground (only our long-suffering web designer knows how impatient), as the inevitable delays piled up.
But on this silent Saturday night, when the goal was in sight, and the thing was almost certainly going to go live the following day – all of a sudden my mind was swept with an overwhelming wave of total indifference. I no longer cared. This new website didn’t matter one whit. I could take it or leave it.
This was very curious indeed.
When I told my wife the following day about the experience, she suggested that perhaps it was a mental defense mechanism – perhaps I was afraid of disappointment, that the site wouldn’t measure up, and so subconsciously I had lowered my expectations.
As reasonable as this sounded, it didn’t quite jive. In truth, I wasn’t afraid that the site wouldn’t meet expectations – it had turned out better than I had ever imagined possible. No, what had happened to me was much more than a psychological trick, a mere mechanism to cushion my ego against disillusionment.
There is a clever poem by the metaphysical poet George Herbert, in which he imagines God creating Man, and bestowing upon him a variety of gifts. Strength, beauty, wisdom, honor, and pleasure – all are bestowed liberally upon this new creature by a beneficent God.
But when God comes to one final blessing, “rest,” he hesitates, and then decides against giving it. While man can keep all the others, God says, “let him keep them with repining restlessness”:
Let him be rich and weary, that, at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.
My readers will undoubtedly hear in this an echo of that famous quotation from St. Augustine: “My heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”
What had happened on that Saturday night was that I had been given a taste of this divine discontent. For a brief moment I was pulled back from the tiny pinprick of time and space which I occupy and given a panoramic view. In short, I was given the gift of perspective. I saw how little it mattered whether or not Lifesite has the best website or not, and I knew that apart from God, all my strivings were worth naught.
In a sense my wife was right: I was afraid of disappointment. But it was disappointment on a grander scale. I had poured all my energies into this project – it had consumed my every waking hour in recent days. I thought about it as soon as my eyes opened in the morning, and as I drifted off to sleep at night. And yet, even though I was fundamentally pleased with the result, the painful truth remained that it had no power whatsoever to sate the divine thirst that parches the soul of every created rational creature that has been separated from its Maker.
During that brief respite from work that Saturday night, I had made room for this revelation. Such is the power of even a little silence. And so, I finally did what I needed to do, and had not done: I got off the chair, dropped to my knees in the lamplight, and offered up all my work to God, and prayed that He might do something good with it and that it might prove the means by which I would see Him one day, face to face.
And then I experienced peace.
During this Christmas season, why not find a few moments of silence in which to open yourself up to this divine discontent, which the saints have said is nothing else than the desire for God, and which we so often bury beneath a mountain of meaningless thoughts and frenetic tasks? Not only is the experience and acceptance of this divine discontent the foundation of a life of true prayer, but it is also the only route to true peace.
In a discourse on the psalms, St. Augustine explains that when the psalmist writes “In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud,” he is referring to this divine restlessness, this burning desire. And then Augustine explains Paul’s exhortation to Christians to “pray without ceasing” thus: “The desire of your heart is itself your prayer,” he says. “And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. … Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your desire on God’s Sabbath rest, your prayer will be ceaseless.”