Abstaining from control

by | Mar 12, 2023 | Presence


Abstinence is giving up something entirely while fasting is doing with less. For Catholics, abstaining helps us bring the body’s desires into order so we grow in self-mastery. By doing this for God, our mind now focuses on Him. It also should clear our mind for prayer with Him. For these reasons, the saints consider such ascetical practices as necessary for spiritual growth, growing in relationship with God. 

The sixth: although in desolation we should not change our first proposals, it is very advantageous to change ourselves intensely against the desolation itself, as by insisting more upon prayer, meditation, upon much examination, and upon extending ourselves in some suitable way of doing penance. (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola 319)

Abstaining can be a reparation made to God for the world’s offenses against Him, or for our own personal offenses. If can be a sacrifice made on the behalf of another person for whom we are praying. Our good efforts affect the entire body of Christ. It is a form of penance that can be done to give Glory to God and in that way it also is our weapon to fight our own desolation. It should make us more receptive to God’s love, but it is only spiritually effective in doing so when we abstain for God’s glory rather than our own achievement or goals. Abstaining from food orders the body’s passions to follow reason; abstaining from the Internet will order our reason and intellect to truth; abstaining from our own opinions and preferences orders our will to love. 

Commonly, abstinence pertains to giving up certain types of food. But abstaining from food is easy. I decide what I’m giving up and (outside of Lent) for how long I am abstaining. I’m in control. This alone doesn’t develop my relationship with God.


How willing am I to give up control? Abstaining from control is not easy as it permeates the fabric of our lives. Passive or subconscious control is in the small decisions and actions taken in an attempt to manipulate outcomes.  Am I willing to honestly examen my day for those moments I’d rather ‘skate by’ and not address? To find those moments of slight unrest that I ignored? Do I really think those small moments don’t matter, in spite of our long history of saints imploring upon us otherwise? 

Everything else we do is a means to an end. But love is an end already, since God is love.

-Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

Let’s say it is one of those days where I am ‘flying by the seat of my pants” trying to keep my ducks in a row so-to-speak. I am psychologically satisfied at having accomplished everything I planned for that day. It was a challenging day, but I pushed through it and won. Victory! The world would call this ‘peace’ of mind coming from ‘accomplishment’, but we know it is merely mental satisfaction; the satisfying of our instinct for equilibrium. If I’m willing to examen honestly with God, I’ll find those moments where I did not feel God’s peace even though I was quite satisfied with myself. Those moments where I begin to realize I packed too much into my day and almost blew it but somehow got it all done reasonably well. There was that fleeting moment when I admitted to myself how many of these things really weren’t necessary and I should have known/planned better. But I suppressed it, preferring to congratulate myself once it all pulled together. 

We will either accuse ourselves or excuse ourselves.

-St. John Vianney

Examining these with God, I first humbly acknowledge that He alone was the reason I survived the messy day I had made for myself. I ask the Holy Spirit to bring to my memory those moments of God’s presence in which I was too self-focused to notice Him. These could be His Spirit convicting me interiorly or other people bringing some semblance of truth into a situation that I did not want to hear. And there will be underlying unrest that I cannot quite put my finger upon. Then to further pick this apart, I ask: what are my physical and emotional states, and my thoughts during those moments (of worry, pride, self-satisfaction)? 

Having revisited these with God in the examen, I can ask the ‘why’ questions to start the conversation with Him in mental prayer. Why do I get a charge out of this—is it a feeling of conquering? A competitive spirit? Self protection? Control? And why do I need to be in control of every detail? What fear, worry, or pain does this come out of? Little by little, day by day, we bring to God some of the wounds from which these controlling behaviors manifest. The resolutions we make for change are more easily kept too. 

Abstaining from controlling ways may be the best of sacrifices. 😊 

On the note of sacrifice, let’s continue to also pray and offer up sufferings for Pope Francis, all clergy and religious, and our worldwide Church. 

May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will. May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam 😊


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