Difficulties in the Christian Life
For those who haven’t read the book, and maybe aren’t going to, the difficulties she addresses are concerning Consecration, Faith, The Will, Guidance, Doubts, Temptation, Failures, and Is God in Everything?
They mostly seem to all be about the same thing: you just have to decide to believe and obey. You have to decide, in your Will, not your emotions, that you choose to believe, that you really want to follow God, and that is enough for God to do God’s work in you. You don’t give up your own Will, you simply aim to align your Will with God’s Will. If you don’t choose, then you can refuse God. And you don’t have to control all your emotions, she pretty much says you can’t, so don’t worry about them. Emotions come and go, they don’t have to change the fact of your intention to join your Will with God’s Will.
Smith reminds us that experiencing temptation is not the same as sinning. Temptations come, in all lives. To anger, to gluttony, to gossip, to lustful rather than loving behavior, etc. Even Jesus was tempted. We may experience different temptations than other people, but we all face them. We must not think that if we were better Christians that we would not feel tempted.
And in fact, sin happens. Smith, like many other spiritual teachers, says that when we are overcome by even a momentary temptation, the only thing to do is to face it, name it for what it is, look for the reasons and the remedies, and then get back on the path and move on. I’ve heard others say that a more literal definition of the Greek word for sin is “missing the mark.” But I like Smith’s metaphor of wandering off the path. It’s not like the path disappears when we stray from it. And in the spiritual life, we have only to firmly decide again to get back on the path and go from there. As often as necessary.
Despairing, though, is sinning. Thinking that there is no way to resist temptation, that is a sin in this book. As Smith says, “No safe teacher of this interior life ever says that it becomes impossible to sin; they only insist that sin ceases to be a necessity, and that a possibility of continual victory is opened before us.” p.128
As a side note, I really like her simple, homely illustrations of real life examples of spiritual dilemmas. I’m sure some people have thought they were not serious theology. But the example of the moths in the cask in her cellar was a valuable example of how leaving a seemingly small task undone can undermine your most serious efforts and lead to further failures.
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