Saturday, November 16, 2013

Am I on the cycle of spiritual fruitfulness?

Guest post by Mr. M! He's really getting into this blogging thing =)

Gratitude for infertility? “Yeah right. That's not for me! That's not my temperament! And really God, I think it is okay for me to be sad given my hardships! Any just God would understand why I can't be thankful for infertility – it's an evil after all – and God doesn't want me to be thankful for evil - right?”

All of these thoughts have entered my mind at one time or another during this infertility struggle my wife and I have been experiencing. But as soon as I think these thoughts, then I read Paul's challenge: “Be filled with the Spirit . . . giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18; emphasis added). Be thankful “at all times” and for “everything?” “Well that would seem to include suffering and evil – like infertility. What gives? Really Lord – you want me to be thankful for that? I'll be thankful for other things but not for that. That's impossible!” From on high then I hear a voice speak soft to my heart through this scripture: “Yes, my son, I want you to be thankful for even that.” Long pause. Selfishness of wanting to do things my own way slowly starting to crumbling and then a big “Hummph” heaved on my part.

As usual, this is one of those passages in scripture that I am tempted to pass over for more comfortable, bourgeois ones that already fit who I am and what I do. I have, as my former pastor and still friend Fr. Larry Richards puts it, a tendency to pick and choose which scripture passages I like to hear and tend to pick those that are the most convenient for me. But this won't do as a Christian! As Christians we are called to accept the entire Gospel and all biblical directives no matter how difficult they are for us to understand or to practice. No picking and choosing allowed here. We must choose all or nothing. So “I choose all” I say finally to that angelic voice yet quickly follow it up with “Maybe you could tell me a little bit about how I can do this Lord?! Help my unbelief and unwillingness!”

This is how my dialogue went recently with God and all of these thoughts forced me to examine my attitude toward gratitude. I thought to myself, “Do I treat gratitude as just one of those nice pious sentiments that yeah we should in general do, but when it costs us then I can chuck it off my Christian to-do list? In other words do I make gratitude just a platitude? You know, a platitude - one of those nice things we tell ourselves and others to do but secretly justify to not do because of the aforementioned reasons above. Yes, I know I have treated gratitude in that way and have brushed off the Christian teaching to be thankful 'at all times' and for 'everything' on more than one occasion.” So I began to examine my soul more in depth. Why do I do this? “Usually,” I concluded, “it is because of a lack of knowledge as to why something is good for me and usually it is because I have too limited of thoughts on the topic or then again sometimes I am just selfish. I just want to go on the shorter, easier road.” But as usual, God wants to break open my limited thoughts and actions here. So I pressed on in my search these last few days for a deeper meaning of gratitude. Here is what the Lord has taught me so far, although I know I am nowhere near done learning about how to be grateful like Christ.

I was reading another great book by Jacques Phillipe called The Way of Trust and Love: A Retreat Guided by St. Therese of Lisieux. In that book, he started to discuss gratitude not just as a good practice to do occasionally to uplift our spiritual lives, but actually as a necessary law of every spiritual life. In other words, gratitude is not an option. It is something we have to practice regardless of temperament or disposition. “Okay, but why?” Here Jacques Phillipe gives a further insight that has proved helpful to me in the last week or two. He calls gratitude a necessary part of the circle of a healthy spiritual life as opposed to the circle of an unsatisfied, unhealthy spiritual life. I would like to use more colorful terms related to our particular suffering here. So lets call these two patterns the “cycle of spiritual fruitfulness” and the “cycle of spiritual infertility”.

Cycle of Spiritual Fruitfulness

The cycle of spiritual fruitfulness, according to Jacques Phillipe, interpreting St. Therese of Lisieux's thought, begins with trust in God, which is nourished through a life of faithfulness in prayer to God. As a necessary part of this trust, Jacques Phillipe says, we must be grateful before all questions are resolved in regard to our suffering because gratitude opens up our heart to God. Finding a way to be grateful for things opens up our heart because it moves us away from thinking of only our weaknesses or only on the evil, which is not God, to what is good and therefore of God. As we see more of God, then we give more to God and in turn receive more of God's love and grace in our life. As we receive more of His love, then we are healed more and are also able to grow in love more. This cycle then repeats as we grow in love and we become more and more loved and loving little by little. Thus, this is the slow path towards growth and spiritual fruitfulness, but it begins with trust and gratitude. Here is a nifty diagram I created.

Trust Gratitude
Love Opens Heart

Cycle of Spiritual Infertility

Now, the opposite of this cycle of spiritual fruitfulness is the cycle of spiritual infertility. The cycle of spiritual infertility begins with a lack of trust in God through a lack of faithfulness to one's prayer life. In place of gratitude there is a negativity focused on our weaknesses, what we lack, and our suffering. This negativity closes our hearts off from God because we are focusing on what is not God. As a result, this ingratitude makes God's love more distant from us through our own action. As a result, we push the healing and love away in exchange for nursing sourly one's wounds and isolation. If we let this endure too long, then our whole life becomes one big storm of sadness and anger. Eventually, we can even turn bitter toward life in general and eventually hateful towards others and God. Sure, it may be an extreme to become hateful towards others and God, but nonetheless we can isolate ourselves as the result of not having trust and gratitude and this invariably leads to less love. Here is a diagram of the cycle of spiritual infertility.

Distrust Negativity
Less Love Closed Heart

So, the cycle of spiritual fruitfulness offers us several good reasons for why Paul instructs us to be grateful at all times and for everything with no exception. What I have learned is that I want to open up my heart more to the Lord and to thereby love more, so I must find a way to be thankful for all things - even for infertility.

With this in mind, I went back to my dialogue with God. I asked God for the grace to be more grateful moment to moment in my daily life for everything. God, in turn, has asked me when I am tempted to be ungrateful and negative to make an act of trust in the moment and find something to be grateful for – health, the fresh crisp autumn air perhaps, or even more profoundly - my wonderful wife – and thereby to become more aware of His love in my life. Slowly then I become a little more grateful and a little less negative and eventually I hope to become with God's help grateful for everything in my life.

This gratefulness at all times, like the Gospel command to pray at all times, does not come overnight and does not necessitate a formal act of thankfulness at every moment. In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about prayer - to pray always requires us to pray sometimes - so too with gratitude. To be thankful always requires us to be thankful consciously sometimes throughout the day in the little, hidden moments of the day, but obviously not necessarily consciously through a formal act at all times. So I need to practice this gratitude sometimes through my day. As I become more grateful in those little moments, I will not only be able to resist ingratitude in the big, more difficult moments, like when I think about our infertility after seeing our friend's kids bop around me at their house, but also it will help me to be grateful even for our suffering. In this way, I think I am slowly becoming thankful at all times, although such a task even with God's grace is still far off for me. I am very unfinished. But through grace I have come to learn that while we may not be able to control our natural cycles of fertility, we can always choose what spiritual cycle we are in. So I choose the cycle of spiritual fruitfulness. What cycle are you on? Come Holy Spirit, make all of us more grateful!

And oh yes – “Lord I thank you for these insights, for the holy resolve to put these insights into practice, for our blogger friends who are reading this lengthy post and haven't passed out yet with reader's fatigue, for heat on a cold day, my daily Sacrament with my wife and yes . . . okay . . . fine . . . I thank you even for the cross of our infertility that mysteriously brings us closer to one another and You by teaching us all of these challenging lessons that we may have not learned otherwise.”

Please pray for us to continue to stay on the right cycle as we will pray for all of your cycles both natural and supernatural!

+Ecce Fiat's Husband+


  1. That was a beautiful post! Thank you. I think you are absolutely right on about gratitude and it opening us up to receive God's love, and grow more in love. It reminds me of a book a read a few years ago: "One Thousand Gifts", about a gal who tried to make a list of 1000 things she was thankful for, in the midst of her cross and sufferings. When reading it I couldn't help notice the little things to be grateful for in my own life. True, being grateful for IF is kind of an ebb and flow for me. One thing I am grateful for is that it has helped me grow in compassion and empathy for others, whatever their struggle may be. But to truly be grateful for IF, for it's own sake, is something I need to pray for more grace for. Speaking of which, love what you said:The cycle of spiritual infertility begins with a lack of trust in God through a lack of faithfulness to one's prayer life.

  2. Hmm, I've definitely been on the negativity cycle before, and the worst was when I didn't even want off it. What an amazing grace of God when He brings us through even that, even our own hardness of heart if we let Him!

  3. Thank you for the diagrams! They so accurately depict the cycles I'm on, most often the infertility one. Time for me to work on being more grateful and trusting, no matter the situation. Prayers that we all stay on the right cycle!