Recently, my husband and I attended a virtual Catholic Marriage Summit called, “Joyful Ever After.” Several of the speakers mentioned the importance of cultivating the virtue of believing in your spouse’s best intentions rather than assuming ill will when a perceived grievance is committed.
I thought back to a time when my husband and I were dating long-distance. He texted me that he would be arriving late to see me, which was very unlike him. I was a bit sassy in my response. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was late because he ran into traffic while buying me a surprise bouquet of flowers.
A podcast I listen to addressed this same predicament when we interpret our children’s actions before we know their true intentions. The mom on the podcast shared how terribly she felt after becoming upset with one of her children for making a mess of crafting supplies only to find out her child brought out the materials to make her a love note.
Encounters like these provide us with opportunities to choose love. Making up stories in our minds that may not be—and most of the time are not—true does more harm to our relationships than good. Assuming good intentions from our spouses, family, friends and co-workers allows us to foster and strengthen relationships.
Doubting someone else is a way of protecting ourselves. God is the one who gives us courage to trust others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Being less defensive makes others more receptive. Opening ourselves up to another allows us to share the hope and joy of the Gospel. We become more likeable, less distracted by imagined problems, focused on the actual issue, and are overall happier. After all, God gives us a second, third, fourth and ultimately infinite chances in response to our shortcomings. As James 2:13 says, “For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Training our minds to think of others and the best intentions they have can both help us and improve our relationships. In many occasions, the person we are interacting with may be reacting from a previous interaction that overflows into our relationship with them. By keeping an open mind without judgement, we allow the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts so that we may reach out to the other with empathy and love. This serves as a reminder to us of our own humanity and imperfection.
Believing in another person’s best intentions is an act of faith. To foster this line of thinking in my own marriage, every day I try to share something I’m thankful for about my husband. I try to think about this during prayer as well to help develop gratitude. When I don’t understand something that my husband is doing or has done, I try (very hard!) to ask open-minded questions in order to open dialogue instead of shutting the conversation down or arguing. Some other ways we can seek to see the best intentions in others are: asking for clarification, listening to what’s being said rather than waiting to share our own thoughts, and refraining from editorial comments that could aggravate the situation.
During these unusual times, we could all benefit from more compassion and grace. Let us open our hearts and minds to seeing the best in others.
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O God, Thou art my God, I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. -Psalm 63:1
There are seasons in the spiritual life in which you feel parched, as if you’re wandering the desert without refreshment. Silent reflection is filled with distraction. Prayer seems awkward, difficult, or boring. Your heart feels lifeless.
Lately, despite my attempts to find escape, this sums up my prayer experience. It doesn’t matter that I infuse my days with the Mass readings, a Rosary, Catholic podcasts, or spiritual books. Right now, it seems so much easier to turn on a show or scroll through social media than to pray. Any time I resolve to do the latter, all the things I need to do bombard my mind, or the texts and notifications come in streaming. At Mass, I hear the beautiful words of Scripture and the homily but feel hollow in the pew.
Am I a bad Catholic? Is something wrong?
During times like these, many people of faith get disheartened. They think they have done something wrong in the spiritual life, that God has abandoned them, or that their faith must not be relevant anymore. But all people of faith will experience this to some degree at one point or another! It is often hard to trudge through when warm feelings are absent and prayer requires intentionality and effort, but these times in the spiritual life can be the most fruitful of all.
Our hearts can grow cold and tepid for two reasons: either we’ve slackened in the spiritual life and slowly let the cares of the world take over – like the weeds that choke out the good seed in the parable – or God is calling us to deeper faith and growth. If it’s the latter, this is often a time of spiritual maturation that deepens our faith and love. We choose to cry out to God in prayer not because it makes us feel good or holy or satisfied, but because we trust in God and love him despite how we might feel. We’ve often heard that love is a choice, not a feeling. Therefore, when feelings are absent, God is inviting us to choose him with a love that is selfless and trusting. The feelings that are lukewarm, indifferent, or distracted are part of the spiritual dryness St. Ignatius of Loyola called “desolation.”
According to St. Ignatius, there are moments in the spiritual life of both consolation and desolation. In times of consolation, we feel especially close to God, find prayer easy, fulfilling, and natural, and have peace and joy. I remember one time talking to a priest in spiritual direction who asked how things were going spiritually. I told him I almost felt guilty because all was going smoothly. He chuckled and told me to enjoy this time of consolation because it wouldn’t last forever—advising me to write down my feelings and spiritual observations as something to look back on in times of dryness or sorrow. A quote attributed to St. Philip Neri sums up this ebb and flow: “As a rule, people who aim at a spiritual life begin with the sweet and afterward pass on to the bitter. So now, away with all tepidity, off with that mask of yours, carry your cross, don’t leave it to carry you.”
How can you carry your cross during this time? Below are some tips to reinvigorate your faith and get you through this time of spiritual dryness.
It is important if you feel indifferent to your faith right now not to give up. I encourage you to re-double your efforts in prayer, seek help from your community and the saints, and persevere. Know that this is a completely normal phase of the spiritual life, that even the saints felt arid at times, and that you are not alone.