“Endeavor to be inclined always not to the most gratifying, but to the least pleasant”
Being a team player in any organization or family is learning to embrace the porcupine. We all have some part of our life that makes us uncomfortable. Maybe its a particular kind of gathering, a particular social circumstance, someone in particular, whatever it might be. We all have things and people in our life that sting like the needles of a porcupine.
Embracing such discomfort is not as easy at it sounds. When you first pick up the porcupine, your response is natural enough. “Oh heck no, I am never doing that again.” However, if you really want to possess that freedom which allows you to embrace God’s will, your discernment has to be deeper than surface emotions.
You can’t spend your life avoiding the things you don’t like.
In this counsel, St. John of the Cross is not saying that we have to heroically embrace every possible discomfort, but rather we must be willing to follow them when they are properly discerned. His counsels are not trying to create a rigid rule that replaces prudence, but rather it is meant to help us cultivate that spiritual detachment which helps us follow God’s will.
If you had to take that job you hate, could you still be happy? If by happy you mean that you satisfy your personal preference and ego, then the answer is no. But if you mean that you can discover a joy and peace that comes through surrendering to divine providence, then you will soon realize that happiness is as much about interior attitudes as it is about external circumstances.
By surrendering to the Father’s will, you will find a font of refreshment that runs deeper than your limited perspective. In time, this habit of conversion will open up opportunities in your life in ways that go beyond your carefully constructed plans. The key to happiness is constantly walking a path between knowing and unknowing; learning to prepare for that which lies within your control and letting go of that which cannot be changed.
This counsel helps form a spiritual exercise that can help you cultivate such detachment. So give it a try. Imagine yourself in a job or a circumstance that you find uncomfortable. Look at the difficult emotions without trying to force them away, and then imagine that in the midst of it all, you discover a happiness and peace in Jesus Christ.
Don’t just try this once; try it often.
This is the third in a series of articles on the “Nada” section of St. John of the Cross’s great work the Ascent of Mt. Carmel