“Often it is a small thing that makes me downcast and sad,” laments Thomas à Kempis. The 15th century theologian was part of a community that, although they took no vows, lived a life of intentional obedience, chastity, and poverty.
It is easy to dismiss those who willingly sacrifice the comforts of their time as far stronger than the average person of faith—but à Kempis’ writings reveal the depth of his daily struggle. In The Imitation Of Christ, he confesses:
I propose to act bravely, but when even a small temptation comes I find myself in great straits. Sometimes it is the merest trifle which gives rise to grievous temptations. When I think myself somewhat safe and when I am not expecting it, I frequently find myself almost overcome by a slight wind.
Look, therefore, Lord, at my lowliness and frailty which You know so well. Have mercy on me and snatch me out of the mire that I may not be caught in it and may not remain forever utterly despondent.
Focusing his argument onto the reality that all Christians face, à Kempis confesses that it is not his commitments that trip him up, but his idolatrous love affair with a broken and sinful world.
Alas! What sort of life is this, from which troubles and miseries are never absent, where all things are full of snares and enemies? For when one trouble or temptation leaves, another comes. Indeed, even while the first conflict is still raging, many others begin unexpectedly.
How is it possible to love a life that has such great bitterness, that is subject to so many calamities and miseries? Indeed, how can it even be called life when it begets so many deaths and plagues? And yet, it is loved, and many seek their delight in it.
Many persons often blame the world for being false and vain, yet do not readily give it up because the desires of the flesh have such great power. Some things draw them to love the world, others make them despise it. The lust of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life lead to love, while the pains and miseries, which are the just consequences of those things, beget hatred and weariness of the world.
Vicious pleasure overcomes the soul that is given to the world. She thinks that there are delights beneath these thorns, because she has never seen or tasted the sweetness of God or the internal delight of virtue.