A Healthy Mistrust of Self

Objective Truth Series – reflections article #5

The last reflection was a consideration of how important it is to have a complete submission to, union with, and trust in the Divine Will.

God wants us to have trust in Him, in fact, to have complete confidence in Him. As far as we are concerned, He doesn’t want us to trust in ourselves alone.  Surely, He wants us to have confidence to use the abilities that He gave us and that He expects us to use to do our duty of state. He expects us to not be slothful, having an irrational fear of the difficult. He doesn’t want us to be cowards when it comes to doing our duty.

Furthermore, God expects us to not be lazy and shirk our duties because we don’t “feel” like doing them or because we want to relax. But having confidence in the human abilities that God gave us does not mean we have abilities above our nature, or that we should think that we are using our abilities perfectly. No one should imagine he can do things that are super-human or that he is perfect in any respect.

For example, we cannot know the thoughts of others. We often guess what others are thinking, but unless another communicates his thoughts aloud or in writing, we cannot know with any certitude what another is thinking. Thus, we cannot judge the interior of another. We can only judge the external actions (fruits) of others. To judge the interior is called rash judgment. St. John Chrysostom said, “You will not easily find anyone, either the father of a family or a cloistered religious who is free from rash judgment.”[1]

This quote ought to give us pause and give us a fear and a healthy caution over our thoughts and speech.

We humans get so self-complacent, in other words, self-satisfied, and from this, conceit grows in the soul. Self-importance takes control of the soul usually in a creeping, subtle manner, and, before one knows it, he has over-confidence in himself. “Wherefore, he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall” (1st Corinthians 10; 12).  

A quote like this should prick one’s conscience. Questions then bombard the mind like: Am I self-complacent? Do I say things or act as if I have all the answers, even about a single subject? Do I act over confident? Do I act as if I have been looking down on others, in any way? Do I act as if I realize that any good I have, especially the faith, or insights, has been given to me by God and that I know I do not deserve them? “What hast thou that thou hast not received?  And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”[2]  Do I forget this truth of which St. Paul reminds me? Do I acknowledge the gifts of God to me? If so, do I thank God for His gifts and tender mercies? Do I expect others to have received these same gifts and/or insights, and make all their decisions in the same manner that I make my decisions? And if others do not act in the same manner as I, do I look down on them as if they are big sinners or have something wrong with them?

Oh, how the conscience does prick when we realize how easily we humans get into this typical complacent frame of mind. We have to be so cautious and follow St. Paul’s advice, namely, “With fear and trembling work out your salvation” (Philippians Ch 2; 12). Likewise, we need to heed carefully Our Lord’s words, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Here Our Lord is clearly warning against judging the interior of a person.

Nor can we forget our human roots, namely, how Eve was tempted with thinking she could become like God. The devil certainly knows how to trap us humans with this temptation and tries to puff us up. Self-complacence is one of the devil’s subtle tools to achieve this. Thus, we need to see that we need advice, and be willing to get advice. This will help us avoid self-complacence.

Our Lady explained the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits to St. Ignatius of Loyola, when giving him the Spiritual Exercises. She explained in Rule #5 in the Second Week that we must pay close attention to the course of our thoughts and look carefully at their beginning, middle, and end to see whether they are inspired by the good angel or the devil. This means a person must truly distrust himself and have a healthy mistrust of his own motive for acting. Again, Our Lady knows how the devil tricks us poor humans with self-conceit and, being Our Good Mother, she warns her children about his snares.

With all of the above in mind, perhaps our thoughts naturally will flow into something like the following:

Oh, my soul, if I have a treasure,

Am I grateful, or do I take pleasure?

Thinking this gem, is a gift self-bestowed

That it comes from God, to me, not owed?

Do I remember, my God to thank?

Am I really, with myself frank?

This gift, this talent, from where did it come?

Could I e’re pay for it, with any sum?

I am nothing, a worthless being

Whence this prize, that I am seeing?

Tis not really mine, to the Lord, belongs

Only He gets the credit, [only I do wrongs.]

God could punish, my self-conceit,

This would be fitting, would be meet.

That He could take, this gift away

And not make it last, not one more day

I must be grateful, give God His due

And rely on Him only, tis so true!

I need so much help, and advice

Each plan I make, I must think thrice

Where did it start, where does it lead?

Does it, my self-complacence, feed?

I must tremble, yea, I must quake

Do I work for me, or for God’s sake?

Dear Lord, help me ever recall

Self-complacence, is a trap for all

Help me ne’r judge, things in a flash

Help me avoid, e’er being rash

If I forget my need, of Thee, Lord

Love of self, will become a sword

Which will cut me, from what’s most dear

To displease Thee, give me healthy fear!

[1]           St. Thomas Aquinas quoting St. John Chrysostom in the Catena Aurea on St. Luke’s Gospel, ch.6, vv. 37-38.

[2]           1 Corinthians, 4:7.