Mind the Gap between Faith and Life

When I was a kid, my faith and my life went together pretty easily.  I learned a very practical faith from the nuns in school and my parents at home.  No lying.  No violence.  Cooperate.  Be generous. Think of others.  Be trustworthy.  Work hard.  Do what you’re told.  It was a useful ethical code, grounded in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ parables, and other teachings of the gospels.  Faith and life were one.

Things got complicated when I went to high school.  The Christian Brothers who ran the school taught the familiar Christian code, but other values were important among the students—things like popularity, swagger, and cunning.  It seemed to me that my classmates were more like the pagan Romans we studied in Latin class than the early Christians—admiring power and beauty rather than humility and service.  People who cheated got ahead of people who played by the rules.  Boasting, threatening, and sneering got you into the in-crowd.  Showing off got you dates.  A gap began to open between what I believed and the way I lived.

Things got more complicated still when I went to work.  One of my first jobs out of college was working as a newspaper reporter.  I worked with many wonderful people, but I also regularly dealt with scoundrels and liars.  I often had to do favors for these people to get what I needed.  I learned the advantages of telling less than the full truth.  I learned how to manipulate other people.  I learned how to get what I wanted and not worry too much about what I did to get it.  I went to Mass on Sunday, and for the rest of the week I did what I thought I needed to do to get by.

For some years now I’ve been trying to break down that wall between what I believe and what I do.  It helps that my career has been in religious publishing; my colleagues are nicer than the fixers and “consultants” I dealt with as a reporter in New Jersey.  But I still have challenges—at work, with my family, with my friends. Sometimes things don’t go my way, and I feel resentful.  Sometimes I’m sure, absolutely sure, that I know what people should do, and I’m amazed and hurt when they do something else.  Sometimes, hard as it might be to believe, I’m wrong.  Sometimes I give into these feelings of resentment and pride, and make things miserable for other people as well as myself.

Two things have helped.  One is to be aware of myself, especially of my weaknesses.  Certain things touch me off.  Certain reactions of mine are almost certainly excessive and inappropriate.  I’m on the watch for them.

The other is to look for signs of God’s presence throughout my day.  Breaking down the wall between faith and life isn’t just a matter of doing the right thing when you’d rather not.  It’s also a matter of finding God in all things.  God is there in church on Sunday.  But he’s also there in the meeting at work, in the lunch date with a friend, in the errands you run.  Just look.

Image by Steff under a Creative Commons license

17 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Jim I needed to be reminded to look within then to look closely at everything around me to really see. I need to work on my gratitude and this post was a wonderful reminder for me. God Bless

  2. Thanks a lot Jim Manney. The Ignatian Spirituality really has brought me thus far. As I was reading these, i can see myself in your shirt, and the levels of life changing process I went through from childhood up to this time that I am still able to participate in His banquet like these. ‘Though, a thought came that I was a failure at school because I married early without finishing a degree, and through the years, before my father died, a question caught me as to why God has allowed it in my life.
    My father, as the first experimental lay deacon in our province, being my mentor and educator of Christ, hand me a tape recorded voice of his talk on “Love” that held me responsible for bringing up my family, and this time my turn, being the middle child of my parents 12 seblings.
    Today, I realized that to be a helper in bridging His word between them, God chooses the weak to be great among them all. Full of stages in life, now I see how the father whom has called me continue to prawn me with his love, and for me to share the fruit of faith unto the generation in our family life. This is love.
    “Like a tree that grows from a seed to a big grown tree, He prawned to become great and beautiful fruit bearing tree on solid rock.”

  3. Thank you Jim for this beautiful post. I am new to Ignatian Spirituality, found you all by chance (or I believe, through divine direction) and have been uplifted and inspired by all I have read here. Now is a difficult time in my life and I’ve sought for the past two years, a closer relationship with Jesus. I have felt restless, overwhelmed, resentful, disappointed and at odds with almost everything. To the point where I just yearned for something different, some different life. Then I realized I needed to look at my life a different way. To understand that God is calling me to certain things, because He has continued to place them (or certain people) in my life. I am still struggling, still finding fault with myself and others, but I have become much more self-aware and much more grateful through your spiritual exercises (espicially the Examen). Thank you for all you do. I continue to struggle with putting into daily action the lessons I am learning here, but I am getting better at discerning my thoughts and words and deciding BEFORE I do or say something, whether I am doing my will or His. God Bless you all.

  4. Ann, it is possible to pursue any professional calling as a faithful Christian. But having struggled with exactly that question as a young lawyer, I can say now that had I been introduced to Ignatian spirituality in my 20s, I would probably still be practicing law. The concept of finding God in all things is such a gift to all is us, regardless of life work.

      • Well, one of the things that I have to offer as a pastor is the possibility of sharing this particular gift of Ignatian spirituality – how to look for and see God in all things — something that I wish one of my pastors had been able to do for me when I was a young lawyer asking the kinds of questions that Ann’s dd is asking. I had to wait till I was in my 50s and ran into Jesuits!

  5. Were your daughter to ask that question for herself I would as a writer tell her yes of course you could. Jesus did. He did not operate in a perfect and faithful world. She would learn the course in Journalism and do her practicum and then she would have many options to her. Should she ask I personally would tell her that absolutem!

    • What I should have added is that it is not what happens, it is how we are with what happens. Be in the world but not part of the world, like Jesus said.

  6. This is a great message, and even though I’m going to get off track here, please know that I am taking it to heart and pondering it.
    My daughter briefly considered law as a career, but worried that she might find herself in situations where she would be forced to compromise her values. Now she is very strongly interested in journalism, so your words jumped out at me. Is it possible to be a successful journalist in the secular world and a faithful Christian, too?

  7. Thank you so much for this article. It reads straightforward and unassuming. I especially liked the parts where resentment and pride are mentioned as undertows that cause us to act in ways that bring about hurt. Your down-to-earth writing and self-awareness helped me become more willing to recognize my own weaknesses. You also gave us two great tools with which to continue to strive toward who we are called to be: self-awareness and seeing God in all things. Thank you again!

  8. You know, Jim, it makes all the difference no matter how I switch the steps around or fall asleep in the middle of it (that couch hates me, I think the straight back dining room chair and candle (I wouldn’t dare fall asleep with that burning) fixes that little zzzzzzz problem.
    I don’t reply much on blogs but I always read yours nonetheless.

  9. “Finding God in all things,” is exactly right yet how often I would leave him on the altar and go about what I thought was my life as if it was a separate thing. Ironically it’s easy to go the other way too and think that since we are already in God, he is around and in us, then the tendency is to forget to keep in touch as we go about our daily living.

    • Thank you Lynda and Linda. It probably won’t surprise you that I think the Examen is an excellent way to find God in all things.

      • I would agree with you about the Examen and I do that every night. It is one of the gifts that Ignatius has given us along with the Spiritual Exercises. I’m in Week 24 of the 19th Annotation and have found it transformational.

  10. Jim, thank you for this post. This is the challenge of living a life in Christ – that our actions should be consistent with what we say we believe. Your suggestions of being aware of who we are and our weaknesses and of being aware of God’s presence in everything are great reminders for me as I struggle to be the person God has called me to be.

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