I’ve often shared insights from Baron Friedrich von Hügel, a spiritual director from last century. I’ve so appreciated his writings. (Eugene Peterson calls him one of his key literary spiritual directors, so I feel in very good company).
In the collection of spiritual letters to his niece, von Hügel answers her complaint about being overwhelmed with her work with empathy. Listen:
“I too am overwhelmed with work. And your and my work is just the same, if we learn to do it simply for God, simply as, here and now, the one means of growing in love for Him. To‑day it is cooking, scrubbing; to‑morrow it may be utterly different: death itself will come in due time, but, before it, still many a joy and many a training. We will gently practise a genial concentration upon just the one thing picked out for us by God. How this helps! How greatly we add to our crosses by being cross with them! More than half our life goes in weeping for things other than those sent us. Yet it is these things, as sent, and when willed and at last loved as sent, that train us for Home, that can form a spiritual Home for us even here and now.” (von Hügel, Baron Friedrich. Letters to a Niece. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1928, p. 92.)
My work, the very task before me in a particular moment, whatever task it is that I freely choose to engage now, is a place where I can grow in and express my love to the Father. It might be a chore, a project, a task, a piece of writing, or some research or planning. When I let more than the work of the present moment crowd in on my thoughts and emotions, the resulting anxiety is evidence that I am no longer fixing my eyes on Jesus or setting my heart on things above.
I am still learning that whatever comes across my path, whether planned or unexpected, brings with it God’s grace in the moment that can help me, refresh me, bring me peace or joy or courage or whatever I need. That’s such good news.
And let me close by recalling a couple of favorite lines from von Hügel above that I find especially helpful:
“How greatly we add to our crosses by being cross with them!” This is a nice turn of phrase. I can say this in a few specific ways:
- It doesn’t help when I become anxious about my anxiety.
- Being afraid of being fearful only multiplies my problems.
- Being frustrated with my issues of temper does not resolve anything.
“More than half our life goes in weeping for things other than those sent us.” Regrets for the past and anxieties about the future are an incredible energy drain. They add nothing but trouble to our lives.
- What is the next item of work before you? Is it “job work,” “house work” or some personal task?
- How might you engage this work in God’s presence?
- How might you do this work with God and not just for God?