On Guard Against Displeasing Thee

Halee Cross

Saint Teresa of Avila by Daniel Ibanez/CNA
For the month of September I spent my days imagining the perfect answer. “Hi, I’m Halee and I’m a ____”. With each career to which I mentally applied, I sighed because it was unrealistic or more frequently did not fit the picturesque scene I had created where Coloradans with craft beers waited to cast their opinion on my working status. With each unsatisfactory answer I’d tug harder on the Miraculous Medal around my neck and face the fact that I had no clue how I’d even afford the beverages that I considered an entrance fee for meeting and dazzling my new neighbors. The art of impressing came easily when school offered measurable means to do so, but now I wasn’t sure in what arena I even wanted to begin measuring myself.

Soon my extroversion won out over my fear of probing questions and I began frequently attending Catholic speaker events, which seemed like safe stomping grounds. The starlet of one of the talks was St. Teresa of Avila. Only weeks before I had welcomed the conversation when I saw my cell phone buzz with the name and picture of a dear friend and spiritual confidant who was now states away. Time slipped from existence as she and I celebrated the opportunity to hear the other’s voice. We swapped memories as well as the effects of major changes which had recently touched down in both of our lives. I was struck by her fervor as she shared the great companionship she had found in the life of this same Spanish saint. “Oh Halee, you must read Teresa’s autobiography” sang her cheerful voice through my speaker “when God makes the timing right for you”. I held her words dear, but did not have any reason to believe that God wished to draw me near to this saint, who I later found out had wrestled for many years with similar desires to please those around her.

By October I had snagged part time work which served as a humble starting point for my unresolved quest to impress new company. With a heart of thanksgiving that the weather was still somehow hanging above 60 degrees that week, I stepped into mass before my work day.  The priest called us into opening prayer for the feast and I had to stifle a chuckle when I realized that the Church was celebrating the great Carmelite and first female Doctor of the Church, to whom I had been introduced by divine circumstance several times by then. Taking this as my nudge that the timing was right, I resolved to find a copy of St. Teresa of Avila’s biography by the end of the day and found one to borrow with no great difficulty.  

Book in hand, I sunk between the arms of my favorite couch and steadily began touring each page and soaking in Teresa’s stories of her youth until I came to the words “I am sure that much wrongdoing would be avoided if we realized that our business is to be on our guard, not against men, but against displeasing [God]!” Despite the late afternoon sun still coming through my window, I was frozen until I made myself read it again. How had I overlooked the simplicity of this call? And as a result I not only manufactured dissatisfaction, but also harm to myself and to those with whom I interacted. For as long as I can remember, and with special fervor recently, pleasing and impressing had been a top priority. Unfortunately God was rarely who I intended to gratify.

With delicate care God had led me to the life of this saint. And with great love through her, He urged me towards the uncomfortable. Despite my increased prayer life and presence at mass lately, I was trying to find my satisfaction in how family, coworkers, and well-dressed, well-stationed new acquaintances might perceive my success. Beyond the actions that seemed obvious in their worldliness, I became aware of the urge I felt to call my actions to the attention of others. No visit to adoration felt complete until I told someone that I had been there. Even the meals I was making for myself seemed like they needed the attention and approval of another.

As I began to process this idea into the way I lived I found that C.S. Lewis’s words cast an interesting light on my own longings as well as the nature of sin. Lewis reasons about man that “in order to be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue them in the wrong way.” My behavior was not wrong because it was inherently evil, but rather because I was perverting its created goodness. Among the infinite ways this reflection can manifest itself in our lives, I ask: To what end are we rushing through college? Planning and pushing corporate projects? Surrounding ourselves with friends? Who ultimately cares about my vocation, the way I serve, who I am? The answer should be painfully obvious, and yet when our actions are answering it wrongly we only add to the chaos of the world in which we find ourselves.

To say “now is as good a time as ever” is insufficient. God thirsts to give meaning to our lives. Now is the only chance we’re guaranteed. Let us together reexamine the intentionality of our actions, within our homes, within our workplaces, within our hearts. And let us be pleasing to one another, only insofar as it is His divine pleasure. 

Topics: Reflections , Saints , Spirituality , Workplace , Writings of the Saints

Halee is a native of Texas, where she graduated from West Texas A&M University with a degree in English and mysteriously acquired a Wisconsin accent. She is a recent alumnus of Christ in the City where through service to the homeless, she first began to learn to live the integral faith of mind, heart, and action. Through trust that this is where God wants her to be, Colorado is starting to feel a little bit like home.

View all articles by Halee Cross

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