I have been rereading A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law. It is one of the classics of spirituality that I keep going back to time and again. Each time I find something new in it that had never really drawn my attention before. This time it is the realization that all my worries, troubles and anxieties do not come from outside circumstances. They arise from within me, from my passions that I allow to rule over me. As Rev. Law wrote:
Now all trouble and uneasiness is founded in the want of something or other. Would we, therefore, know the true cause of our troubles and disquiets we must find out the cause of our wants, because that which creates and increases our wants does, in the same degree, create and increase our troubles and disquiets.
God Almighty has sent us into the world with very few wants. Meat and drink and clothing are the only things necessary in life, and as these are only our present needs, so the present world is well furnished to supply these needs.
But, alas! Though God and nature and reason make human life thus free from wants and so full of happiness, yet our passions, in rebellion against God, against nature and reason, create a new world of evils and fill human life with imaginary wants and vain disquiets.
The man of pride has a thousand wants, which only his own pride has created; and these render him as full of trouble as if God had created him with a thousand appetites, without creating anything that was proper to satisfy them. Envy and ambition have also their endless wants which disquiet the soul of men, and by their contradictory motions, render them as foolishly miserable as those that want to fly and creep at the same time.
Let but any complaining, disquieted man tell you the ground of his uneasiness and you will plainly see that he is the author of his own torment, that he is vexing himself at some imaginary evil, which will cease to torment him as soon as he is content to be that which God and nature and reason require him to be.
There it is – learning to be content and to not want. – that is the secret. I am the author of my own torment. But, I want so many things. I want success, money, prestige, power, happiness, peace and tranquility. I want it all. I want to both fly and creep along on the ground at the same time. Thus, is born a life of discontent, anxiety and, to use Law’s word, “disquiet”.
That which I want is the cause of my own torment. It is only in learning to be content, and to no want that the true peace of God can begin to dwell within.
Alas! Easier said, than done.