Thomas Merton on Apostolic Work and Results

For some of us, we use our work to prove that we are alive and valuable. We live out of a fear that we’re not good enough so we work hard to prove that we are. This causes great anxiety.

Some of us also take on mythical causes–knights in shining armor–thinking that we can rescue a system, a person, a cause. To prove something.

Thomas Merton writes a letter to a person and addresses these “maladies”. This is exactly what I needed this morning and season of my life.

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing, after all, is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration, and confusion.

The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.

Enough of this…it is at least a gesture…I will keep you in my prayers.

All the best, in Christ,

The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters, by Thomas Merton, Excerpts from p.294 – 297

Long Living and Dwelling Satisfaction

We are living longer these days. Into our 80s and 90s. And strong. By all accounts, I’m barely halfway if I live to be 85. I’ve seen and done a lot of things that have brought me joy. Sometimes I wake up and ask myself if the life I have is it. I’ve been trying to answer that question by wondering what more I should do or become. But it’s falling short.

Instead, I’m leaning into my faith.

Dreams have a way to speak to us. It could very well be an unloading of the unconscious, which is very healthy. But they can also have deeper meanings. Dreams have been very clear and symbolic lately. I recently had a dream about John ch. 14-15. Dwell. Abide. Remain. In my dream, I felt a deep hole being filled with God’s tenderness and presence.

Psalm 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Our faith tradition tells us that we God created us for a deep, communal relationship. In this space of relating, I seem to be more of my true self: one who is loved and has the power to love others in my own unique ways. Isn’t that when the self is at its most truest? When it is known to be loved and is catalyzed to love others?

It just so happens that one of the readings for today was John 15. And it was the reminder that my primary work is to give myself over to the presence of God, where there is deep satisfaction beyond feelings, thoughts, and performance.

If I’m going to live a long life, I pray to be satisfied in the presence of the Sacred in ways that I might see in all the simplicity and little things of life. Making coffee in the morning. Putting on a new hoodie in SoCal weather that is dipping into the high 30s at night in November. Sitting in my reading chair and preparing myself for the satisfying Presence of the Sacred: Father/Son/Spirit.

A Prayer of Desire by Thomas Merton


A Prayer of Desire by Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”