Marla Cilley, known as Flylady, is a “personal online coach to help you gain control of your house and home.” She bills herself as part cheerleader, part drill sergeant, and (lucky for me) she takes a special interest in well-intentioned people with no natural flare for organization and no earthly idea where to begin. (She’s some sort of Christian and occasionally posts a spiritual reflection, but mostly she operates on the natural level.)
Jacques Philippe is a French priest, author, speaker, and spiritual director. He gives deceptively simple advice about peace and freedom and holiness. I’ve written about him here, here, here, and here, and I’ve just finished his latest book, The Way of Trust and Love.
They’re both masterful at what they do, and I would be one impressive human being if I were to follow their advice.
What brought the comparison to mind is the conversation we began last week about not getting trapped in a tangle of dead-end questions (mostly reducible to “Why me?” and “Whose fault is this?”) and focusing instead on what we can do.
Here’s how Philippe puts it (emphasis added in all quotes to follow):
Instead of insisting on answers to all our questions, we resolve to accept the partial darkness and ask ourselves the real question: … What acts of faith and hope, what progress in love, am I asked to make today? What good can be accomplished in this situation that depends on me? Without fretting any more about what other people should do or should have done, we look to our own responsibilities: What good, depending on me, can I do today that nobody else can do?
I love this: he’s not saying either: “Be humbly content to do a little something” or “Wear yourself out trying to fix everything.” It’s nobody's mission to do everything,
but neither are we called to do some generic fraction of that everything. You have a specific mission: there’s something hidden in each situation that is custom-designed for you. If you don’t do it, nobody will. It’s the good that depends on you.
Something else I like: he doesn't require us to pretend things aren’t really as bad as they (sometimes) demonstrably are. This is not just advice for happy people with happy problems.
… Even in the worst situations, in face of the most traumatic injustices, we can discover a good to be accomplished, a step to be taken in our personal progress … If we demand long-term answers, we won’t always get them. We have to consent to live from day to day, take one step at a time, without necessarily knowing what the next will be.
Why bother? He explains:
The results are very beneficial. First, meaning is restored to what we are living through. Before, we felt everything was absurd and chaotic. Now we are aware of a call we can respond to—we can act, make choices, move forward. Things begin to make sense again. Perhaps it’s only for now and not for the next fifty years, but that doesn’t matter. … Our lives recover meaning and orientation, our peace of soul is restored, as well as a certain confidence in the future.
And we can become the person we’re meant to be:
Another very beneficial result is that we drop the victim attitude and assume an attitude of responsibility. We stop looking for people to blame and accusing others and shoulder our own lives again.
At the same time, we recover interior strength. There are two reasons for that: a psychological one and a spiritual one. On the psychological level, we regain strength because we know where to focus our efforts. Before, we were troubled by a thousand questions, wearing ourselves out, not knowing what to concentrate on, but now we know what we should do and can focus on that.
Here's where he reminds me of Flylady, whose system gives you a starting point, a clear goal, and protection from getting terminally sidetracked.. The bite-size tasks are laid out for you: you focus on one thing at a time for a specified amount of time—often just fifteen minutes. You’re not trying to do everything, so you’re more effective at doing something. Having succeeded at something, you're encouraged to proceed to the next thing. Momentum builds; tasks that loomed large in your mind turn out to be doable.
Jacques Philippe encourages us to be faithful to a time dedicated to daily prayer, rather than obsessing over whether it’s high-quality prayer (whatever we might imagine that means). Don't fret that you don't receive inspirations during that period. It prepares you to receive them when you need them.
Flylady says: stick with your set routines and your daily 15-minute missions. Don’t overthink them. Don’t fret that they're not creative and spontaneous. When they're in place, they free you to be creative and spontaneous.
Philippe says to resist focusing on what’s wrong with everyone else. You’ll feel helpless if you think it’s your mission to fix them. You’ll do them and yourself more good if you “shoulder your own life” instead.
Flylady counsels the same thing. She rejects both the martyr-doormat model of housewife and also the feminist anti-housewife who considers any domestic task a personal insult to her dignity. She sees that haranguing your loved ones, even in your own head, is an unpromising road to family happiness.
Philippe says to leave the past to God's mercy. He can be trusted with it.
Flylady says not to beat yourself up, sapping yourself of the energy you could be using to accomplish something now.
This is all just on the natural level. But there’s more going on here. Philippe completes the picture:
[E]very time we respond to a call from God, we receive grace and are interiorly strengthened. Because God is faithful: if he asks us to take this or that step forward, he comes to the aid of our weakness. … we receive a certain courage that enables us to go forward. …
Plus, we recover our self-respect and a certain self-confidence. Before, we spent time complaining or lamenting, but now we have again shouldered responsibility for our lives, and that reconciles us to ourselves. We must realize that nothing is more destructive of our self-confidence than seeing ourselves as permanent victims.
I could keep going, but Philippe and Cilley can speak for themselves. Of all the books I've read and all the websites I've visited (and that's saying something!), I can't think of any that have changed my life more.
So next time you catch your mind racing around in circles
remember to look for the good that depends on you.