Set Our Minds at Ease by St Francis de Sales
The quotations below are from St Francis de Sales (1567-1622), in the book “Set your heart free,” freely adapted into modern English by John Kirvan and published 1997.
1. Patience is not laziness.
True patience accepts, not only the great and heavy trials that occasionally come our way, but also the petty troubles and annoying accidents of everyday.
This means being patient not only in the face of great sickness, but with minor annoyances, that God sends or permits. It means being patient with where He wills us to be, patient with those with whom He has surrounded us, patient with whatever circumstances He permits.
Do not, however, confuse patience with indifference, laziness, or lack of common sense.
When you are overtaken by misfortune, seek whatever remedies God affords you. Not to do so would be tempting His divine providence.
When, however, you have done whatever you can do, used whatever God has put within your reach, await the outcome with patient resignation.
If God sees fit to overcome the evils, cure the illness, or whatever, thank Him humbly. But if, on the other hand, He permits the evil to triumph, patiently bless His holy name and surrender yourself to His will for you. (131-133)
2. Don’t worry!
Whatever it is that you must do to follow the path that God has shown you, do to the best of your ability. And when you have done it move on to the next thing.
Don’t keep rerunning it in your mind trying to decide whether your efforts were too little or too much, whether it was a great deed or a small one, whether you might have done better.
If it wasn’t sinful and you were trying to do the will of God, it is enough.
Don’t worry. Move on.
Simply. Calmly. Peacefully.
Follow the path the Lord shows you free of anxiety. Otherwise your anxiety will undermine your efforts to grow.
If you do fail, don’t let anxiety overcome you, but admit your failure, quietly, humbly, and in God’s presence. Then get on with following the path that God will continue to show you. (41-43)
3. God is never the source of our anxiety.
There are three things about living in peace that you should never forget.
- Peace does not mean living without pain. You lose peace not when you are trouble free, but when you cease to be dependent on God and fail in your duties. You must expect pain and not be disturbed by it.
- Our set ways of doing things are not let go off easily. They give way to the “new person” in God with great reluctance. Don’t be disturbed. You have not lost favor with God.
- God is never the source of our anxiety. Because anxiety is the enemy of peace, it cannot come from God. It is an enemy of the spirit. Treat anxiety like the temptation it is. Fight it. Send it on its way. Whatever you must do, whether it is defending yourself against temptation or welcoming joy, do it peacefully, without anxiety. You cannot keep your peace by losing it. (203-205)
4. Let God do his part.
Do not let anxiety sabotage your search for God. You know well that when you search for something too anxiously you can come upon it a hundred times without ever seeing it.
Anxiety masquerades as true spiritual energy, even as it wearies our mind, drains our enthusiasm, and deadens our soul.
It pretends to stir up our soul, but all it does is dampen our spirit. It pushes us until we stumble over our own feet.
We need to be on the watch for this impostor that would have us believing that our spiritual life depends completely on our efforts, so that the more panicked we are, the more anxiously we search, the more likely we are to find God.
Let God do his part.
Not even our best efforts can earn the blessings of God.
Our role is to be ready, to receive God’s gifts with an open heart–—carefully, humbly, and serenely. (35-37)
5. God is content with the little we have.
The biggest mistake that most of us make about God, the one that most consistently undermines our peace of soul, is the idea that God demands a lot of us, more than a fragile being like ourselves could ever give.
Such a God is frightening. But God in reality is content with the little we can give, because God knows—–and accepts—–the little that we have.
We need to do just three things:
1. Do the best we can to find and honor God in everything we do.
2. Do whatever—–however little—–we can to live this way.
3. Let God do the rest.
If we follow these simple rules, we will possess God. And possessing God we will not be disturbed, we will not be anxious, for we will have no need to fear a God who never asks of us more than we can give. (77-79)
6. “Learn from me!”
“Learn from me,” Jesus said, “for I am meek and humble of heart.”
“Learn from me,” he was saying, “to be patient and gentle with your neighbor, and humble before my Father.”
“Learn from me,” he was saying, “to be patient and gentle with everyone, but especially with yourself.”
Don’t be anxious to condemn yourself every time you fall.
Instead, patiently, gently, pick yourself up and start all over again.
There is no better way to grow toward perfection than to be willing—–and patient enough—–to start over again and again.
To follow this simple advice is to discover the secret of a truly devout life.
God will give you an inward peace and all the patience you need, but you must sincerely ask Him for it. And you must put it to work day by day.
Use every opportunity to perform acts of patient gentleness, no matter how small they may seem at the time, for our Lord has promised: “To the person who is faithful in little things, greater ones will be given.” (107-109)
7. It is in patience that we shall possess our souls.
It is through patience, as the Lord himself reminds us, that we achieve great happiness, that we come to possess our soul.
The more perfect our patience is, the more perfect our happiness. We need, therefore, to remind ourselves frequently that it was by patient suffering that our Lord saved us.
We can expect to work out our salvation in the same way, enduring our injuries, contradictions, and annoyances with His great calm and gentleness—–with His patience—–embracing every sort of trial that He sends us or permits to overtake us.
Some people are willing, of course, to suffer things that bring honor with them, (to be wounded in war or taken prisoner, for example, or to be ill treated because of their religion). But they can be more in love with the honor than patient with the suffering.
The truly patient servant of God does not pick and choose, but bears in patience whatever comes her way, the reproach of the good as well as the contempt of the wicked, the honourable and the merely annoying. (125-127)
8. Lift up your heart–but gently!
Why are you surprised when the weak turn out to be weak, and the frail, frail? When you turn out to be sinful?
When you fall be gentle with your frail, weak heart. Lift up your heart gently; accept your failure without wallowing in your weakness.
Admit your guilt in God’s sight. Then with good heart, with courage and confidence in His mercy, start over again.
It is tempting to condemn yourself with harsh words and even harsher feelings. But it does no good to lash out at yourself.
Seek instead to rebuild your soul calmly, reasonably, and compassionately.
Speak to your heart in understanding words: “Rise up my heart there’s still another time. Put your trust in God’s mercy, so that you will stand stronger in the future. Do not be discouraged, God will help and guide you.”
Pray with the Psalmist: “Why are you sad my soul, and why do you disquiet me? Hope in God: for I will still give praise to Him; the salvation of my countenance, and my God.” (185-187)
9. Patience—day in, day out.
Many of us make the mistake of building our spiritual lives around major crises and great opportunities. We leave ourselves totally unprepared to deal with and take advantage of the little ones that are presented to us day in and day out.
It would actually be better to concentrate less on the great but rare events and to be ready for and open to the constant little ones that are the stuff of everyday living.
We are all obliged to strive for perfection, as both Christ and St. Paul tell us. But we need to remember that perfection consists of doing the will of God, of using that will as the standard for all our decisions, great and small.
We are to flee what God wants us to avoid and bring about what He wants us to achieve in His name. And we are to do this not only in large matters and serious trials, but even in minor upsets and little opportunities.
It is one thing, and rather dramatic, to prepare for a happy death, but it is just as important to be ready, with undramatic patience, to face each new day and its trivial trials. (59-61)
10. Perfection may have to wait.
Don’t think that you can overcome in a day the bad habits of a lifetime, or enjoy perfect spiritual health after years of inattention.
As long as we live we will bear the burden of ourselves, the limitations of our humanity. Perfection will have to wait for another life, another world.
Of course, God has cured some people instantly, leaving no trace of their former failures.
Think of Mary Magdalene.
In an instant Jesus brought her from a life of sin to a life of holiness. But that same God left many of his most loyal disciples weakened by their past.
Think of Peter who fell often. On one occasion he went so far as to deny the Lord.
God will do what is best for us. Most likely He will lead us little by little, one small step at a time. So we need to be patient with everyone, with everything, but especially with ourselves and with God. (71-73)
11. Anger is no remedy for anger.
When it comes to being gentle, start with yourself. Don’t get upset with your imperfections.
Being disappointed by failure is understandable, but it shouldn’t turn into bitterness or spite directed at yourself.
It’s a great mistake—–because it leads nowhere—–to get angry because you are angry, upset at being upset, disappointed because you are disappointed.
So don’t fool yourself. You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it. It’s just a seed-bed for renewed anger. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that self-recrimination is a sign of virtue. It is a sign of self-love.
You are not perfect. Try then to take your failings in stride.
Look at yourself calmly, gently, with clear-thinking regret.
Quiet, steady repentance is far more effective than emotional upset. It goes far deeper and lasts far longer. (179-181)
12. Be not angry along the way.
We are on a journey to a more blessed life. Let us not, along the way, be angry with one another. Instead let us go forward with our fellow travelers, our brothers and sisters, gently, in peace and in love. And whatever happens along the way, however great the provocation, do not let anger into your heart.
Take with you the advice of Joseph when he bid his brothers good-bye: “be not angry along the way.”
Don’t let anger get the smallest foothold in your heart.
Exclude absolutely, as Augustine advises, even its slightest presence, however justified and reasonable it may seem. For once it gets into your heart it is hard to uproot.
A mote rapidly becomes a beam. It will stay with you and if you ignore the apostle Paul’s advice, and let the sun go down on your anger, it will harden into hatred.
Constantly fed by imaginings and delusions, it will become all but impossible to set yourself free of it. It is best to avoid all anger rather than try to come to terms with it; for if we give anger an inch it will surely take a mile. (161-163)
13. Have mercy on me, 0 Lord.
Whenever your spirit is troubled, take some advice from St. Augustine: “Make haste, like David, to cry out: ‘Have mercy on me, 0 Lord,’ that He may stretch forth His hand to moderate your anger or whatever it is that troubles you.”
Imitate the apostles who when they found themselves caught in a raging storm, called upon God to help them. He will still your anger as he stilled the seas and replace it with His peace.
Remember, however, to pray calmly and gently.
As soon as you are aware of having given into anger or whatever, repair your mistake immediately with an act of kindness to the person you have hurt.
If you tell a lie, the best thing is to recall it as soon as you can.
The best cure for anger is an immediate act of gentleness.
New wounds are the easiest to heal. (167-169)
14. Be not troubled about many things.
An old proverb bids us “make haste slowly.” Likewise King Solomon reminds us that “hurried feet stumble.” And those who worry themselves sick over every detail of their lives do little, and what little they do they do badly.
The noisiest bees produce no honey.
We need to nourish our spirit diligently and carefully, but this is very different from anxiety and debilitating worry.
Care and solicitude don’t undermine tranquillity and peace of mind, but anxiety and spiritual nitpicking, to say nothing of upset and frenzy, most certainly do.
Be conscientious in all you are called upon to do, but do not let hurry, upset, anxiety, and nervousness get in the way of common sense and good judgment, and prevent you from doing well what God calls you to do.
Our Lord rebuked Martha by calling her back to the one thing necessary. “Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things.”
We may need to hear the same rebuke. (29-31)
15. Trust God and rest secure.
If you hope to succeed in whatever you do, place your trust totally in God’s providence. Cooperate with him, then rest secure that whatever happens, will be best for you.
Think of a little child walking with her father. One hand clings tightly to his, but with the other she gathers fruit from trees along the way.
Imitate the child. With one hand go ahead and gather what you need of the world’s good things, but with the other hold on to your heavenly Father, checking regularly whether or not He approves of what you are doing with your life.
Above all, beware of letting go of your Father to free up both your hands to gather more of the world’s goods. You will find that by yourself you will stumble and fall.
And when your gathering does not require all your attention, turn your mind to God as often as you can. Like a sailor returning to port, look to the sky and not just to the waves that carry you. (47-49)
16. Be who you are.
Don’t waste your time dreaming of being someone else.
Don’t try to be someone else.
Work and pray at being yourself.
Be who you are, where you are.
Concentrate on the little everyday problems and pains that beset you.
Reserve your best efforts; expend your spiritual energy on what is right before you.
This is what God asks of you.
This is all he asks of you: that you live and respond to his grace in the here and now. To do anything else is to waste your time.
Listen closely. This is very important and very misunderstood, for we all prefer to do what is to our personal liking. Very few of us choose duty first, or the will of God.
Don’t cultivate someone else’s garden. Grow where you are planted. (53-55)
17. Just do what God is asking of you.
The way to honor God whose handiwork we are, is to be who we are, as perfectly as we can. It is enough to be what God wants us to be, rather than some perfect creature that God never had in mind.
Suppose you were the most perfect being you could possibly imagine.
If you were not the person God had in mind at the moment of your creation, what good would it do you?
It is also enough to do whatever it is that you can do being who you are, and where you are.
Just do wholeheartedly what you know God is asking of you.
Don’t bother yourself about whether or not what God asks of you is important and grand. Whether your actions are insignificant or not does not matter, if they are God’s will.
How could you be disappointed at even the smallest opportunity if you know that it is God’s will—–born of his providential concern for you, and chosen for you in his eternal wisdom? (65-67)
18. Trust who you are, not what “they” think you are.
A good name is like a sign pointing to a virtuous life, and though it is a good sign it is still just a sign. To be overly sensitive about it is to become like a hypochondriac who busies himself taking medicine for every passing symptom. He intends to preserve his health but ends up ruining it.
If you try to stay in everyone’s good graces you can end up in good stead with no one. After all, who wants to be around people whose touchiness makes them unbearable?
But what underlies such spiritual hypochondria is what matters most.
Fear for your good name can mean that you are not putting your trust in its only true foundation—–the solid stone of real virtue. If someone, for example because of your spiritual efforts, calls you a hypocrite or because you are quick to forgive an injury calls you a coward, ignore him. His judgments matter not at all. He may damage your name but his foolish chatter, his shallow judgments, cannot destroy what is true. (155-157)
19. What do I have that I have not received?
The more we recall and appreciate the mercies of God—–especially those private, secret mercies that no one else is aware of—–the more we shall love Him.
But it is a humbling experience.
Face to face with the compassion of God we see the abundance of His mercies. But in the same moment we are faced with His justice and must acknowledge the abundance of our misdeeds.
Let us reflect, therefore, upon all He has done for us, and acknowledge his mercies even as we number our sins.
It will not be an occasion for pride. Even a mule laden with precious jewels is still a mule.
Paul says, “What do you have that you have not received?
And since you have received it why do you act as though you have not received it?” Should we be tempted to take credit for what virtues we have, we need only remember our ingratitude, our imperfections, our weakness.
What have you managed to do without God?
It is all right to rejoice in our deeds, and rejoice in having done them, just so long as we give all the ensuing glory to God, who is their author. (83-85)
20. Walk humbly in the truth.
Humility is as humility does!
Sometimes we confess that we are nothing, that we are weakness itself, the very dust of the earth. But we get very upset if someone takes us at our word.
We conspicuously retreat into solitude and hide ourselves, but with the hope that the world will “discover” us.
True humility does not go about looking and sounding humble. For the humble person prefers to hide her virtues, and conceal her true self, to live unknown, in a concealed life.
My advice then is that you should go easy with your expressions of humility, making sure that your deep inward feelings agree with whatever you say outwardly.
We take the lowest place, cherishing the hope that we will be asked to go up higher.
Never cast down your eyes without humbling your heart, and do not pretend that you wish to be among the least unless you truly desire it in your heart.
Really humble people prefer to let others say they are contemptible and worth nothing, than to say it about themselves. (89-91)
21. What really matters?
Do you remember how, when you were a small child, you would take an abandoned carton or a fistful of sand and turn it into a castle? Inevitably, it seemed, someone would knock it over. Your heart would be broken. But now we understand that those things that were so earthshaking when we were children were in the end not all that important. Our world did not end when our castle fell.
Yet here we are, still frantic and anxious about the frail castles of our adult years. They too will fall and it will not matter that much in the light of eternity. But it takes a while to gain this perspective.
We can spend our days running in circles, obsessed by a thousand things, convinced that each one of them is all important to our happiness. Or we can stop for a moment and think of eternity. Then we see how very unimportant the thousand concerns that clutter our minds and preoccupy our souls truly are.
How little they matter! (101-103)
22. Speak when you are spoken to.
When you are in love, lovers say, the whole world speaks of the one you love. It is hard to think of anything else. Your heart overflows. When you speak, it is hard not to speak of him. And when you are silent you daydream of her. Her absence is intolerable.
So too, those who love God are never weary of thinking of Him, living for Him, yearning for Him, and talking of Him. To them, the whole world speaks in a silent language of love, exciting them to thoughts of the one they love—–exciting us, if we listen to thoughts of the one we love—–firing an insatiable yearning to be in His presence.
Speak, then, when you are spoken to. Do not be embarrassed to acknowledge that everywhere and always you hear the voice of the one you love. Go where your heart takes you. (113-115)
23. Perfection is in acting on our Father’s inspirations.
With persistent caring our heavenly Father is forever planting in our hearts gentle inspirations that He hopes will awaken and kindle in us a desire for His heavenly love.
Receive them gratefully, reverently, and without hesitation.
Listen to them meekly.
Cultivate the love you feel.
Finding joy in these inspirations may not seem like much, but it is a great step. For even though such delight falls far short of complete commitment to His love, it still demonstrates that we are moving, however slowly, however cautiously, in the right direction.
Do not forget, however, that perfection lies in acting on these inspirations, for if, after welcoming them gladly, we fail to act on them, we greatly offend God and trivialize His goodness.
Do not stop, therefore, with His inspirations, but follow through on them fully, lovingly, and ceaselessly. For then our Father who is under no obligation to us, may hold Himself obliged by our love.
A consent that remains nestled in the heart and produces no outward results is like a vine that bears no fruit. (119-121)
24. Seek the pearl, not the shell.
The person who dives for pearls is never satisfied to come up with shells. Neither should those who aim at virtue be satisfied with honors and reputation.
The more virtue parades itself, the more it desires to be seen and acclaimed, the less likely it is to be real and true.True virtue and personal attractiveness are not rooted and supported in pride, self-sufficiency, and vanity. These produce a life lived strictly for show. It blooms brilliantly and quickly withers away.
Having the appearance of virtue may be fine for those who do not seek it, who accept it indifferently, and who do not mistake the shell for the pearl. But it can become very dangerous and hurtful to those who cling to it, and take delight in it.
A really great soul will not waste itself on such empty goods as rank, honor, and form. It has higher aspirations. (137-139)
25. Do what you can, God will do the rest.
For if someone is truly wise, truly learned, truly generous and noble, their gifts will flower in true humility and modesty.
We do what we can to find the peace of Christ, and He does the rest. But this does not mean that there is no price to be paid.
Almost certainly we will need to leave behind much that we have clung to— the familiarity and comfort of being self-sufficient, our reassuring self-confidence, our abounding self-love. It will be painful.
As the scriptures say, to separate us from our self-love He will bring “not peace but the sword.” His sword will leave our hearts raw. We will resist with our whole being the wrenching that precedes peace.
It’s true however, that in the end, if we remain committed to finding the will of God, and do our own small bit, faithfully and courageously, He will do the rest.
His promised peace will come. “Let not my will, but yours be done.”
Our peace will be found in the midst of warfare, our serenity will be bought at the price of surrender. (143-145)
26. Who is poor and I am not poor?
Because we become what we love, we will ourselves become truly poor only by loving poverty and the poor.
“Who is weak and I am not weak?” says St. Paul. He might have continued: “Who is poor and I am not poor?”
Love makes us like those we love. If then we truly love the poor, truly enter into their poverty, we will be poor with them.
We cannot love the poor by keeping at a distance, but only by being with them, by visiting them, by talking freely, openly with them, by being with them in the church, on the street, wherever poverty leads, wherever need is present.
Speak with everyone out of your own poverty, but let your hands be rich, sharing freely of what you have.
Blessed are they who are thus poor, for theirs truly is the kingdom of heaven. To them the King of Kings who is King of the Poor will say on the day of judgment: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked, and you covered me. Come possess the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” (149-151)
27. Where is my faith?
It doesn’t take much to remind us of our fragility. At any moment, however lofty our prayers, however convinced we are of our spiritual strength, we can find ourselves with little or no notice, plunged into chilling reality, humbly pleading for God to save us.
Think of Peter. There he was, so sure of his faith, that he stepped from the boat to walk on water. But when the wind came up unexpectedly and the waves became threatening, he was quick to cry out: “Lord, save me!”
The response of Jesus was just as swift. He reached out and took Peter by the hand, but then He chided him: “Where is your faith? Why do you doubt?”
Is it any different with us? Doesn’t it often take the winds of temptation, our overconfident steps to bring us to call upon God? We lose our footing and God takes us by the hand. “Where is your faith?” he asks. “Why do you doubt?”
Why indeed? (173-175)
28. We need only be there.
God welcomes us into his presence always and everywhere. We need not wait until our heart is overflowing with words, or our soul burdened with needs, before we present ourselves. It is enough to be there. It is all right to be speechless. After all, the primary reason for entering God’s presence is simply to acknowledge Him and to offer Him the honor that is His due. We don’t need words for this. We need only to be there, to let our presence speak what is deepest in our soul.
He is our God, we are His creatures. Our soul bows down before Him in honor and praise awaiting His will for us.
Think of how politicians and others go into the presence of their leaders over and over again, not to speak to them or to hear them speak but just to be seen!
But we are not mere time-servers, fawning followers. We are seekers after God, and we come before Him to demonstrate our love and fidelity, our wordless joy merely at being in His presence. (191-193)
29. Speak to Him. Listen to Him.
Sometimes, of course, when we enter into God’s presence we will not find ourselves speechless.
We will be ready to speak to Him and to hear what He has to say to us.
Usually He will respond in quiet inspirations, and in the silent movement of our heart.
His voice will fill our soul with consolation and courage.
So if you are able to speak to the Lord, do it with words of prayer.
Listen to Him.
But if, no matter how full your heart is with things you wish to say to God, your voice still fails you, stay right where you are in His presence. He will see you there, and bless your silence.
And perhaps He will reach down and take you by the hand, walking with you, chatting with you, leading you gently through the garden of His love.
Whatever happens, it is a great grace. (197-199)
30. Set my heart free.
A heart that is free is the close companion of a peaceful soul.
A free heart is one that is not attached to its own way of doing things, that does not become impatient when things don’t go its way.
A free heart will surely enjoy spiritual consolations, but is not dependent on them and will, to the best of its ability, accept troubles in their stead.
A free heart is not so tied to a schedule or a way of praying that any change is upsetting and a source of anxiety.
A free heart is not attached to what is beyond its control.
A free heart prays to God that His name be hallowed, that His kingdom come, that His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
For if the name of God is hallowed, if His kingdom is in us, if His will is being done, a free spirit need not concern itself with anything else. (95-97)