Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 11

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 4, Chapter 11

CHAPTER XI. Anxiety of Mind.

ANXIETY of mind is not so much an abstract temptation, as the source
whence various temptations arise. Sadness, when defined, is the mental
grief we feel because of our involuntary ailments;–whether the evil be
exterior, such as poverty, sickness or contempt; or interior, such as
ignorance, dryness, depression or temptation. Directly that the soul is
conscious of some such trouble, it is downcast, and so trouble sets in.
Then we at once begin to try to get rid of it, and find means to shake
it off; and so far rightly enough, for it is natural to us all to
desire good, and shun that which we hold to be evil.

If any one strives to be delivered from his troubles out of love of
God, he will strive patiently, gently, humbly and calmly, looking for
deliverance rather to God’s Goodness and Providence than to his own
industry or efforts; but if self-love is the prevailing object he will
grow hot and eager in seeking relief, as though all depended more upon
himself than upon God. I do not say that the person thinks so, but he
acts eagerly as though he did think it. Then if he does not find what
he wants at once, he becomes exceedingly impatient and troubled, which
does not mend matters, but on the contrary makes them worse, and so he
gets into an unreasonable state of anxiety and distress, till he begins
to fancy that there is no cure for his trouble. Thus you see how a
disturbance, which was right at the outset, begets anxiety, and anxiety
goes on into an excessive distress, which is exceedingly dangerous.

This unresting anxiety is the greatest evil which can happen to the
soul, sin only excepted. Just as internal commotions and seditions ruin
a commonwealth, and make it incapable of resisting its foreign enemies,
so if our heart be disturbed and anxious, it loses power to retain such
graces as it has, as well as strength to resist the temptations of the
Evil One, who is all the more ready to fish (according to an old
proverb) in troubled waters.

Anxiety arises from an unregulated desire to be delivered from any
pressing evil, or to obtain some hoped-for good. Nevertheless nothing
tends so greatly to enchance the one or retard the other as
over-eagerness and anxiety. Birds that are captured in nets and snares
become inextricably entangled therein, because they flutter and
struggle so much. Therefore, whensoever you urgently desire to be
delivered from any evil, or to attain some good thing, strive above all
else to keep a calm, restful spirit,–steady your judgment and will,
and then go quietly and easily after your object, taking all fitting
means to attain thereto. By easily I do not mean carelessly, but
without eagerness, disquietude or anxiety; otherwise, so far from
bringing about what you wish, you will hinder it, and add more and more
to your perplexities. “My soul is alway in my hand, yet do I not forget
Thy Law,” [186] David says. Examine yourself often, at least night and
morning, as to whether your soul is “in your hand;” or whether it has
been wrested thence by any passionate or anxious emotion. See whether
your soul is fully under control, or whether it has not in anywise
escaped from beneath your hand, to plunge into some unruly love, hate,
envy, lust, fear, vexation or joy. And if it has so strayed, before all
else seek it out, and quietly bring it back to the Presence of God,
once more placing all your hopes and affections under the direction of
His Holy Will. Just as one who fears to lose some precious possession
holds it tight in his hand, so, like King David, we ought to be able to
say, “My soul is alway in my hand, and therefore I have not forgotten
Thy Law.”

Do not allow any wishes to disturb your mind under the pretext of their
being trifling and unimportant; for if they gain the day, greater and
weightier matters will find your heart more accessible to disturbance.
When you are conscious that you are growing anxious, commend yourself
to God, and resolve stedfastly not to take any steps whatever to obtain
the result you desire, until your disturbed state of mind is altogether
quieted;–unless indeed it should be necessary to do something without
delay, in which case you must restrain the rush of inclination,
moderating it, as far as possible, so as to act rather from reason than

If you can lay your anxiety before your spiritual guide, or at least
before some trusty and devout friend, you may be sure that you will
find great solace. The heart finds relief in telling its troubles to
another, just as the body when suffering from persistent fever finds
relief from bleeding. It is the best of remedies, and therefore it was
that S. Louis counselled his son, “If thou hast any uneasiness lying
heavy on thy heart, tell it forthwith to thy confessor, or to some
other pious person, and the comfort he will give will enable thee to
bear it easily.”

[186] Ps. cxix. 109.