We all suffer in this world more or less, either from anxiety of mind, or sorrow of heart, or pain of body. And nevertheless we all long for rest; we seek it eagerly; and we wear ourselves out all our lives in this search without ever attaining the object of our desires.
Where is rest to be found? Where shall we seek it? This is a most interesting question if ever there was one.
Some men, in fact the greater number, seek their rest in the enjoyment of the riches, pleasures, and honors of this life. What care do they not take to secure these things for themselves, to preserve them, to increase them, and to accumulate them?
Do they really find rest in these things? No. How would rest be found in these perishing things, which cannot even satisfy the passion that desired them; in things that have no proportion with the wants of the human heart, that leave it always empty, always devoured by a still more ardent thirst; in things that are always being disputed and envied and torn furiously by one person from another? What rest and stability can be found in things that are change itself? If the foundation on which we build our rest is always moving, is it not a necessary consequence that we must experience the same agitation?
Let everyone consult himself; experience is the most positive of proofs. What man ever tasted rest in the midst of the greatest treasures, the liveliest pleasures, the most flattering honors? Rest is not in these things: everyone knows this; and yet it is in these things that man persists in seeking it. Men exhaust themselves in desires, in projects, in enterprises, and they never succeed in finding a single moment of rest. If they would only consult their reason, it would tell them that in this way they can never find rest. What blindness! What folly!
Others establish their rest in themselves, and in doing this, they think they are much wiser than those who seek it in exterior things. But are they really wise? Is man made to be sufficient for himself? Can he find in himself the principle of his rest? His ideas change every day; his heart is in a perpetual state of unrest; he is constantly imagining new systems of happiness, and he finds this happiness nowhere. If he is alone, he is devoured with weariness. If he is in company, however select and agreeable it may be, it soon becomes tiresome to him; his reflections exhaust and torment him. Study and reading may amuse him and distract him for a time, but they cannot fill up the void in his heart. This is the kind of rest that human wisdom promises to its followers and for which it invites them to give up everything else, to isolate themselves, and to concentrate their attention on themselves. It is a deceitful rest, which is not exempt from the most violent agitations and which is at least as hard for man to bear as the tumult of his passions!
Where, then, is rest to be found, if we can find it neither in the good things of this world nor in ourselves?
It is to be found in God, and in God alone. Jesus Christ came into the world to teach us this truth, and it is the greatest lesson that He has given us. But how few there are who profit by it!
“Thou hast made us for Thyself,” cries St. Augustine, “and our heart finds no rest until it reposes in Thee.” This truth is the first principle of all morality; reason, religion, and experience all unite in proving it to us.
Resting in God requires abandoning ourselves to Him
But to repose in God, what must we do? We must give ourselves entirely to Him, and we must sacrifice to Him everything else. If we give ourselves only partly to Him, if we make some reservation, if we keep back some attachment, it is quite clear that our rest cannot be entire or perfect, because trouble will glide in by the place in our heart that is not united to God and resting only on Him. This is why so few Christians enjoy a real peace — a peace that is continual, full, and unchanging.
They do not fix their rest in God alone; they do not entrust everything to Him; they do not abandon everything to Him. Nevertheless, there is no true and solid rest to be found but in this utter abandonment.
This rest is unchangeable, as God is. It is elevated, as God is, above all created things. It is most secret and intimate, because it is only God, the enjoyment of whom pierces to the very depths of our hearts. It is full, because God completely fills and satisfies the heart. It leaves nothing to desire and nothing to regret, because he who possesses God can neither desire nor regret anything else. This rest calms the passions, tranquilizes the imagination, composes the mind, and fixes the inconstancy of the heart. This rest subsists in the midst of all changes of fortune of every imaginable evil and misfortune, even in the midst of temptations and trials, because nothing in these things can reach the center of the soul that is reposing in God.
The martyrs on the scaffold, a prey to the most horrible tortures, the confessors, in poverty, in prison, in exile, in persecution, tasted this rest in the depths of their souls, and were happy. The saints have tasted it in solitude, in the exercise of a most austere penance, in hard and excessive labors, in calumnies, in humiliations, in infirmities and sicknesses. A crowd of Christians have tasted it in the painful duties of their state of life, in the crosses attached to it, in the common life and all the cares and anxieties it entails.
It depends only on ourselves to enjoy it as they did. If we will it, God will be to us what He has been to them. He asks of us, as He asked of them, only a single thing: that we should lean only on Him and seek our rest and happiness in Him alone.
The experience of this is certain and has never failed. From the moment that we give our hearts to God, that we put our conscience in order, that we take measures to avoid all sin — venial as well as mortal — that we make a firm determination to be attentive and faithful to divine grace, and to refuse nothing to God, that we put ourselves under the direction of an enlightened guide and resolve to obey him in all things — from that moment, we enter upon a rest and a peace that we have never before experienced, of which we could have formed no idea, and at which we are utterly astonished.
This rest is at first very sweet and pleasant. We enjoy it, and we feel that we are enjoying it; it draws us and concentrates us within ourselves. When we have this rest, nothing troubles us; nothing wearies us. Any position, however painful it would otherwise be, is agreeable to us. All other pleasures, whatever they may be, become tasteless and insipid to us. We avoid carefully everything that could withdraw us from this sweet enjoyment of the peace of God. No miser ever feared so much to lose his treasure as we fear everything that could take away from us our rest or change it in any way. This is that blessed sleep of the soul, in which it wakes for God alone and sleeps for everything else.
Let us believe the saints, who speak of it from their own experience. Let us believe St. Paul, who speaks to us of the “peace that passes all understanding.” Let us believe our Lord Jesus Christ, who calls this rest His peace, a divine peace, which the world can neither give nor take away — a peace that we can never obtain by our own efforts because it is the gift of God and is His reward for the absolute and irrevocable gift of ourselves that we have made to Him.
I have said before that this peace has its trials and often even very severe trials; but far from shaking it, these trials only strengthen it. This peace of God rises above all evils and raises us with it. It renders a Christian so happy in the midst of all his sufferings that he would not change his state, however terrible it may seem to human nature, for the most exquisite pleasures the world could offer him. Such is the life of a perfect Christian who goes to God by Jesus Christ and who adores God as Christ adored Him, in spirit and in truth; who sacrifices everything to God, and himself above all. Nothing can destroy the rest and peace of his soul, and death will be for him only a short passage from his rest in time to his eternal rest.
Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from Fr. Grou’s The Spiritual Life, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.