“Grant me chastity[,] but not yet.”
Our lives are to be a reflection of the One who created us. Our desires, our dreams, our passions should all point to Him for Whom they were created. Thus, anything not of Him should be cast out from our hearts in order to truly live a full and complete life.
I’m reminded of our littleness when I think of St. Augustine’s quote above. “Grant me chastity[,] but not yet.” How often is this the motto of our lives-- wanting some great grace but not quite being ready to fully embrace it and put forth the effort to use it in the way it deserves. Indeed, how typical of us as individuals to desire something without having the will and discipline to use it well!
“I want to lose weight, but I don’t want to work out and eat healthy.” “I want to quit drinking, but I don’t want to pour the vodka down the drain.” “I want to find a spouse, but I don’t want to quit flirting and sleeping around with other people.” And the big one: “I want a relationship with God, but I do not want to put forth the effort, I do not want to let go of the things that keep me from Him, I do not want to die to myself to truly embrace all that He is.”
I want, I want, I want….but do I? You see, to want something simply for the sake of desire or because you should isn’t typically a motivation for achievement; rather, discipline must envelop the want for success to actually occur. Why? Because simply wanting something isn’t enough. My mom used to tell me “if wishes were horses, all beggars would ride.” Meaning, if simply wanting or wishing for something was enough, we would all have everything in the world we want, but that’s just illogical and unreasonable to expect.
St. Augustine was a perfect example of someone who wanted something but didn’t want to work for it for a very long time. He knew deep within his being that God was calling Him to a deeper level of intimacy with Him, yet Augustine wasn’t ready to let go of the things of this world. He desired God, he desired chastity and purity, he desired completeness and fullness; yet, ironically, he wasn’t ready to let go of the things that prevented him from truly having the life his heart desired. Finally, he surrendered once he understood his inabilities and smallness without God. And we must also.
“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you," St. Augustine so famously wrote. "And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”
Like St. Augustine, it doesn’t take a whole lot for us to really allow God to transform our lives and purify our hearts. It simply takes an acceptance and willingness to commit to it. Yet, we reject the discipline that our Lord calls us to as part of acceptance and commitment. The Gospel reading today from St. Matthew hints at this: “You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside [you] are full of plunder and self-indulgence.” Simply put, we present this front, often to ourselves, that we desire something from our Lord, yet inside, we are incapable of receiving His gifts and the fullness of His promises because of our own sin. But His grace is always available and we are allowed to continually start again with every day He gives us.
At the heart of every single one of us lies the love of God, for from Him we were created and for Him we were created. Thus, every desire we have should reflect His very own love. Ultimately, to achieve our desires requires that we face the reality that we cannot have any of it without Him. St. Augustine wrote, “Is it possible that, since without you nothing would be which does exist, you made it so that whatever exists has some capacity to receive you?” Truly, everything we are and desire ultimately lies in our desire for God. Thus, every desire we have should be molded to perfection in order to point back to the One for whom we were created.
“Why then, my perverse soul, do you go on following your flesh? Instead, let it be converted so as to follow you. Whatever you feel through it is merely partial. You do not know the whole, of which sensations are only parts; and yet the parts delight you. But if my physical senses had been able to comprehend the whole—and had not as their punishment received only a portion of the whole as their own province—you would then desire that whatever exists in the present time should also pass away so that the whole might please you more. For what we speak, you also hear through physical sensation, and yet you would not wish that syllables should remain. Instead, you wish them to fly past so that others may follow them, and the whole be heard. Thus it is always that when any single thing is composed of many parts which do not coexist simultaneously, the whole gives more delight than the parts could ever do perceived separately. But far better than all this is the one who made it all. He is our God and He does not pass away, for there is nothing to take His place.”
Betsey Sawyer is an attorney and adjunct professor in Mississippi, and works for Women of Grace as the Mission Advancement Coordinator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Kennard Photography)