Lorenzo Scupoli said that in the spiritual life we must have distrust in self and complete trust in God. He describes this distrust in self in this way: “Although in our selves we are nothing, we are too apt to overestimate our own ability and to conclude falsely that we are of some importance.” We cannot have trust in ourselves, our strengths, our knowledge and abilities, our intentions and ideas, and still trust in God at the same time.
In addition, the quality of our distrust in self determines the quality of our trust in God. When we do not have this distrust in ourselves, then we settle for a convenient trust in God. This means that we choose the things and times in which we will trust in God and the things and times in which we will trust in ourselves. We thus trust in Him only when it is convenient to do so. We do not trust in Him when things become inconvenient or when unfavorable or challenging outcomes are imminent. In short, we refuse to trust in God always and in everything.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 highlights the terrible consequences of such a convenient trust in God that comes from trusting in ourselves, “Thus says the Lord: Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in his flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Our hearts turn away from God when we trust in ourselves. Consequently, we cannot receive from Him all the good things that He wants to give to us.
The self-trusting person, who trusts God only conveniently, becomes spiritually lifeless and hopeless like a “barren bush in the desert.” Such a person cannot experience any growth or inner renewal because he is like a tree that “enjoys no change of season.” The person also cannot be spiritually nourished and fruitful because he is like a tree that “stands in a lava waste.” Such a person will have numerous excuses for not being spiritually fruitful.
On the other hand, those who trust in God and not in themselves are able to receive inner renewal, encouragement, strength, and fruitfulness from God. They are like trees “with roots stretching out to the streams,” “they do not fear the heat when it comes,” “their leaves stay green, and they bear fruit even in the time of drought.” No external or internal condition prevents them from being spiritually fruitful and renewed.
One of the priceless gifts that God offers to us and which only those who trust in Him while distrusting themselves can ever enjoy is the gift of His own happiness. The truth is that God wants us to be truly happy more than we even desire to be happy. But the happiness that God desires for us is a happiness in Him and through Him and not in ourselves or in any other creatures.
In Jesus Christ, God is offering to us His own happiness now and in the life to come. Jesus invitees us to share in His truly happy life through the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor…Blessed are you who are hungry now…Blessed are you who weep now…Blessed are you when people hate you.” These Beatitudes are the attitudes of Jesus and He embodies them all perfectly.
In themselves, there is nothing good or praiseworthy in being poor, hungry, weeping, or hated by others. However, these are situations and conditions wherein God invites us to distrust ourselves more, trust in Him completely, turn our hearts to Him, and receive from Him the things that lead to true happiness. We are invited in those moments to let go of self-trust and share in divine happiness through complete trust in God.
We thus have a duty to cultivate this distrust of self. We must do so if we are going to move beyond trusting God only conveniently and enjoy the enduring and fulfilling happiness that God is offering to us.
These are some steps in cultivating this distrust of self:
Firstly, we must meditate on the word of God always, “Blessed is the man who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night.”(Ps 1) The more we ponder the words of scripture, the more we realize and accept our nothingness before God’s majesty. As we also realize His undying love for us through His words, we begin to distrust ourselves more and trust in Him more.
Secondly, we must beg God sincerely for this gift of complete self-distrust. He alone can deliver us from the illusion of trusting in ourselves. True self-distrust is not something psychological but the fruit of prayer from a heart that is honest before God of its tendencies to trust in itself.
Thirdly, we must cultivate a grateful heart. When we sincerely thank God for whatever goodness that we see in ourselves, we grow in that conviction that God gave it to us and He alone sustains it in us. We thus distrust ourselves more and depend on Him more to maintain His gifts in us.
Fourthly, we must examine ourselves on our past failures. Don’t these failures show us how we tend to trust in our strengths and holy resolves? We are so much like St. Peter who so trusted in himself that he boasted, “Even if everyone falls away, I will never fall away.”(Mk 14:29) We all know how that ended! We can also see our own patterns of self-trust behind all our failures and accept those failures as God’s gentle invitations to distrust ourselves the more so that we can trust in Him more.
Fifthly, we must seek to live by faith and not by our feelings. Our life of faith diminishes when we trust in our feelings so much and let our feelings dictate our choices in life. We cannot live in faith and trust in God while giving free reign to every emotion and feeling. To distrust ourselves, we must allow our faith in God to be our guide in all things, no matter how we may feel.
Sixthly, we must also be wary of human praise, “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”(LK 6:26) The praises and accolades that we receive from others bolsters our trust in self to the point that we fail to credit the working of divine grace in us for every single good that we do.
Lastly, let us cultivate a true and filial devotion to the Mother of God. She will teach us to be like little children who have no basis for self-trust. Mary had an unconditional trust in God whether it was convenient for her or not. She trusted Him in all things and always. She is the first human person to renounce completely any trust in herself in order to trust in God completely and receive the gift of God Himself in her womb, “How can this be since I have no husband?…The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”(Lk 114-15) She trusted Him in trivial things like begging Him for wine at Cana as well as in dark moments of watching Him die on the cross on Calvary. We practice true self-distrust in our spiritual life when we approach Jesus through Mary and with Mary.
Because of the hope given to us in baptism, we can trust in God as He deserves in all things and in all aspects of our lives. The only thing that hinders us from this complete trust in God is our continued trust in ourselves. It is this trust in self that keeps our trust in God purely convenient with disastrous consequences.
Every Eucharist is an increase in hope and thus a greater ability to trust in God. Our God comes to fill with amazing blessings those who trust in Him completely and distrust themselves completely. Let us begin today to distrust ourselves the more so that our hearts will be turned towards Him in trustful expectation ready to receive the beautiful things that He wants to give to us, especially His own happiness.
Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!
Image by Jeong Eun Lee from Pixabay