There’s an old saying that we should “pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you.” It’s been attributed to St. Ignatius, who said something similar, if not using those exact words, as reported in Vida del Bienaventurado Padre Ignacio de Loyola by Pedro de Rivadeneira. Many think the phrase captures the Ignatian spirit: turning it all over to God in prayer and then working tirelessly and urgently to do God’s work.
I prefer to reverse it: “pray as if everything depends on you, and work as if everything depends on God.” This means that prayer has to be urgent: God has to do something dramatic if everything depends on me. It also puts our work in the right perspective: if it depends on God, we can let it go. We can work hard but leave the outcome up to him. If God is in charge we can tolerate mixed results and endure failure.
Ignatius writes about work and human effort in a letter to an aristocrat named Jerome Vines, whom I imagine was a busy, hard-charging, Type A character who was getting upset about the fate of his many projects. A busy man, Ignatius writes, “must make up his mind to do what he can, without afflicting himself if he cannot do all that he wishes. You must have patience and not think that God our Lord requires what man cannot accomplish.” He concludes with this: “There is no need to wear yourself out, but make a competent and sufficient effort, and leave the rest to him who can do all he pleases.”Image by wetwebwork under Creative Commons license.