At the Pace of a Hen: Content with Being Good

You consider yourself a good person, maybe even a very good person. You go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on Sundays. Your friends know you’re pretty religious. You’re not a crazy partier and you take your studies seriously. However, you do not have a time set aside for prayer every day. There are certain venial sins you’re not willing to leave behind. You have your own plans for your future and are afraid to ask God what He wants of you, or just don’t care. You’re content with just being good. 

“We shall get along all right if we walk in righteousness and hold fast to virtue, but it will mean advancing at the pace of a hen and will never lead us to spiritual freedom” (St. Teresa of Avila, Autobiography, Ch. 13). St. Teresa of Avila is writing from her own experience. She spent many years—even as a Sister!—with this attitude of wanting to be good, but putting a limit to what God could ask of her. But if we recognize that God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, if we adore Him as our Creator and Lord, if we were adopted in the Son and are His children, how can we possibly prefer our own plans and desires to His? How can we hold ourselves back and not give ourselves with generosity? What right do we have to tell God what He can and cannot do in our lives?

St. Teresa points own three main reasons why this can happen to us. 

1. False humility: You truly want to be a good person, but you don’t want to be ambitious about it. You don’t want to stand out. “Don’t be so prideful as to think you can be holy,” the devil whispers in your ear. You admire the saints and even pray to the saints of your devotion, but you do not dare try to imitate them. 

2. Lack of good spiritual director: You strive to be good and everyone around you seems to think you’re on the right path. In the depths of your soul, you have an intuition that God is asking more of you, but you don’t know how to put it in practice. You know there are fears or obstacles within you that impede a deeper relationship with God. Despite your “goodness,” your love for Him is very poor… but you aren’t sure what to do to improve, and you’re not sure if you really want to improve. “If there had been anyone to encourage me to soar higher,” St. Teresa reflects as she remembers when she found herself in this situation, “I think he might have brought me to a state in which these desires [for holiness] were carried into effect…”

3. Lack of trust in God: You are convinced that if you take holiness seriously, it may just ruin your life. In St. Teresa’s words, “we imagine the earth will go from under our feet.” You are not willing to loosen your grasp on the comforts of this world or on your own plans and way of seeing or doing things. You know that God exists, but your faith is not strong enough to leap and cling to Him alone.  

So what can be done? I think the best place to start is with the third reason. So many people think their plans and their earthly comforts will make them happier than God! So few have absolute trust and total confidence in Him! Try to abandon yourself in His hands in moments of silent prayer. This new openness to God will help you realize you need help, the help of a good spiritual director (2), who will help you advance in holiness much faster than a hen! He or she will open your eyes to the fact that desiring to be holy is not prideful (3). St. Teresa points out that “If [the saints] had never resolved to desire to attain [holiness] and to carry their desires continually into effect, they would never have risen to as high a state as they did.” Your spiritual guide will encourage you, help you see what is holding you back, and ignite in your soul a desire to reach holiness!