I have always loved summertime—its warmth and relaxed, slower pace. For me, this summer is a break from my coursework and a chance to explore our new environment here in Arkansas. Since I don’t have reading and writing homework assignments for the next two months, I’m enjoying reviewing some of my reflection assignments. Last year in my Spiritual Classics class, we studied some of the great spiritual writers in Christian history. Our first assignment was The Confessions of Saint Augustine. For this month’s blog, I’d like to share my reflection on a portion of this work. This is Augustine’s life story, and we have much to learn from our stories. I found myself in Augustine’s story, and I pray that you may find yourself in this reflection.
“You (God) have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
I heard this quote of Augustine’s many years ago, and have always been drawn to it as deep truth. I have even quoted it to others, but after spending time with this saint reading this section of Confessions, I sense God’s Spirit deepening this truth in me. I purchased Confessions as a used book and upon opening it, I saw this inscription: “St Teresa once wrote of Augustine’s Confessions – ‘I found myself in them.’ May you have a similar experience.” After reading this section, I feel blessed that I can say that I have found myself in these pages as well. I relate both as a sinner and as a mother.
I was left encouraged by his story—a story of freedom, of God’s presence and faithfulness in the seemingly slow transformation process, and God’s prevailing grace. I related to taking wrong paths that seemed right at the time. My ego definitely reigned! I too had the false idols of money, power, education, prestige, and relationships. I especially resonated with Augustine’s over-desire to hear the words, “Well done! Well done!” While many of the other idols have fallen away, God is showing me that my desire for human approval is still too strong. I join Augustine in praying,
“Grant this, so that you (God) may grow sweet to me above all the allurements that I followed after. May I love you most ardently, may I cling to your hand with all my heart…You are my king and my God.”
God has often used the imagery of being held by His strong right hand to draw me to Himself and give me His peace.
Like Augustine, I now see how from infancy God was my Keeper. I also was given a mother who “trusted greatly” in God. Unfortunately, I join Augustine in reflecting: “I was thus carried away into vain practices and went far from you, my God.” Later, I too found myself rejoicing in all the “goods” of God rather than in THE GOOD—God. I was also left a desert, uncultivated for God. I see now how God warned me as He did Augustine, and He fashioned sorrow into a lesson for me. Reading his prayer, “Who can untie this most twisted and intricate mass of knots?”, reminded me of a time in adulthood when I uttered almost the exact words in a cry for help.
I was especially moved by Augustine’s words in chapter five, The Inner Conflict, in Book Eight: “The enemy had control of my will, and out of it he fashioned a chain and fettered me with it. For in truth lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity. By such links, joined one to another, as it were—for this reason I have called it a chain—a harsh bondage held me fast.” To me, this is a perfect description of what we now call addiction. I have personally experienced what these words express, and have listened as many others in twelve-step recovery programs spoke these words to me. What he describes here is very relevant to today’s times and struggles and definitely a topic for spiritual direction. I take hope and encouragement in Augustine’s statement: “Our King bound up the strong man,” reassuring me that with God’s help, we may overcome our addictions. Similarly, the Scripture, “Rise, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you,” (Ephesians 5:8) speaks to this image of God breaking strongholds.
In my journey of recovery, I see a lot of parallels to Augustine in adulthood. His words, “You (God) stood me face to face with myself,” describe what God did (and continues to do) for me through the twelve steps. In recovery, I experienced what Augustine describes as, “More beautiful than all those things I desired to know is the modest mind that admits its own limitations.” I was also drawn to humility as a virtue. I join Augustine in praying, “You (God) worked within me. Little by little I was drawing closer to you.” Spiritual growth includes increasing knowledge of self and of God.
God also brought Holy Scriptures into my life along with men and women who were living out a strong Christian faith. In time, I came to believe as Augustine did that “anything lacking the name of Jesus cannot wholly capture me.”
These chapters also contain information about his mother, Monica, that touched my heart. I was drawn to her as a woman of great faith and prayer. I was deeply impacted by Bishop Ambrose’s response to her as she fought for her son— “Let him be, only pray. As you live it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” As a mother, I too have shed many tears for my children, and felt God’s assurance that His hand was upon them.
As I finished these chapters and reflected on God’s hand in my own life, I was particularly drawn to these words of Augustine: “For I knew what a thing of evil I was, but I did not know the good I would be after but a little while.” I marvel at how God has fashioned me ever since I “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” I see how my great suffering has turned to even greater joy. In God’s hands, sorrow can be a healing salve. I feel that this knowing can be a great encouragement to those seeking spiritual direction.
As Augustine prayed, I desire that “a complete will to remain still and see that you (God) are the Lord” arise and be made firm in me. I long to hear God’s words: “Run forward! I will bear you up, and I will bring you to the end, and there also will I bear you up.” This is hope. I ask for the grace to believe this and to share it with those I companion on their spiritual journey. God longs to make saints out of us all!