The chief resource of our perfection is the personal presence of God, of which God said long ago to Abraham, “Walk in my presence, and you will be perfect.” The presence of God calms the mind and gives peaceful sleep and rest, even during the day amid all our work, but we must be God’s without reservation. When we have found God, there is nothing more to look for in men. We must sacrifice our good friends, for the best friend is within our hearts. He is the bridegroom who wants an eternal union with us, and so he jealously draws us to himself so that others do not lead us away to destruction.
It does not take much time for us to love God, to renew ourselves in his presence, to raise our hearts to him or to worship him in the depths of our soul, to offer to him all that we do, and all that makes us suffer. That is the true kingdom of God within us, which, when mature, nothing can disturb.
When the distraction of our senses and excitement of our imagination stops our soul from recollecting itself quietly and sensitively, we must take charge and calm ourselves by the rightness of our will. Then the desire for recollection is itself recollection enough. We must turn ourselves to God, and do with right intention all that he wants us to do. We must try to awaken within ourselves, from time to time, the desire to be with God with the utmost of our strength and the steadfastness of our soul, that is to say, take charge of our mind and focus it on him, and with our hearts direct our will to love him. Let us also want our exterior senses to be consecrated to him in all our activities.
Let us take care not to be engrossed for too long a time with things that distract us from the immediacy of God, things without, or things within. Things which greatly distract the heart and mind draw both out of themselves, so that they have trouble re-entering to find peace with God. So, as soon we feel that some new outward thing gives us pleasure or joy, let us separate our heart from it, to keep it from finding a home within us, and then as soon as possible to appraise its true aim, and that is to distract us from that which is truly wonderful, joyous, and good, that is from God himself.
There are many things in this world, people, objects, pleasures, that want to enter into our hearts and possess us, but God created us from within himself in such a way that he is the only one that belongs there. We are the watchman of our hearts, and if we are faithful in keeping all others out for the sake of our true love, then God will not fail to fill us with himself, resulting in us being one spirit with him. Being one with God is to be alive, to possessively keep God out is the folly of the Evil One. Having the fullness of God dwell within you is to be full of life, joy, peace, and gentleness. This state is brought about by us jealously excluding all others from our hearts and our keeping our focus on the Beautiful One in the purity of our faith.
When we notice within ourselves eager desires for something which could be, and when we see that our temperament carries us too intensely into all of that, even if it is only to speak one word, see one object, take one step, let us try to restrain ourselves and ask our Lord to stop the haste of our thoughts and the agitation of our behavior since God has said of himself that his Spirit does not dwell in confusion.
Let us take care not to participate too much in all that is said and done around us, so as not to absorb too much of it because this is a great source of distraction. As we come to know what God asks of us in whatever presents itself, we should be on guard and then willfully direct ourselves back to a state of peace in God. In this way, we shall always keep the depth of our souls free and balanced, and we shall cut off thoroughly the futile things which embarrass our hearts, and which prevents them from turning fully to God.
An excellent way to keep ourselves in inner solitude and the freedom of spirit is that at the end of every activity we should stop all reflections right there, dropping all thoughts of self-interest, whether of joy or sorrow, because the pondering of those thoughts present a barrier to inner peace which comes from our intimacy with God. Happy is the person in whose mind only dwells on the needful, and who only thinks of each thing when it is time to think of it! By doing these things, God awakens an eagerness within us by showing our hearts his will rather than our minds, which dart about trying to find it.
Finally, let us become accustomed to recollect ourselves during the day and, in the course of our duties, by a single look toward God. Let us thus quiet all the movements of our hearts, as soon as we see them agitated. We must separate ourselves from all pleasure that does not come from God. Let us cut off futile thoughts and dreams. Do not speak empty words. Seek God within us, and we shall find him without fail, and with him, we find joy and peace.
In all the external things that we must do, let us not lose our focus on God. To carry out these worldly duties well, we must do each of them as God’s devoted servant. In the presence of God’s majesty, our spirit should become calm and remain serene. One word from the mouth of the Lord once immediately calmed a wildly raging sea. One glance of him toward us, and of us toward him, should even now do the same thing.
We must often raise our hearts toward God. He will purify it, enlighten it, and direct it. As the holy prophet, David did daily in his walk with God. “I always have,” he said, “the Lord before my eyes.” Let us often say these beautiful words of the same prophet, “Whom should I seek in heaven and on earth, save you, O my God? You are the God of my heart, and my unique part forever.”
We must not wait for free hours before we close the door on distraction. The moment we notice our distraction alerts us to our need to rectify it as well. At that moment, we turn our hearts back to God in a simple, familiar way, full of confidence. All the most preoccupied moments are good times to turn back to God, even while we are eating and while hearing others talk. Idle and boring stories, instead of tiring us, refresh us by giving us intervals of liberty to recollect ourselves. Thus, all things turn to good for those who love God.
It is often necessary that we read things in the course of our duties, and perhaps we are reading for your enjoyment, but during these times of focus, we should occasionally pause if only for a moment to commune with the Spirit within, always to keep our intimate connection to God fresh. Our deliberate refocusing on God serves as secret manna that nourishes our soul and causes it to grow. [I can’t tell you how many times I have paused in the middle of reading something to talk to God about it, and he told me something of it that I had never considered. mh]
This article was a letter originally written by Francois Fenelon some 300 years ago as part of his collection of letters later published under the name of Christian Perfection and was edited by Mark Heaney. A copy of Christian Perfection that was translated from the French by Mildred Whitney Stillman can be read here and was the translation that I worked from. Christian Perfection was, to me, one of the most practical Christian writings I have ever read, and so I thought that I might edit the phrasing to make it easier for people to understand.