Q: How come, when you see good people making a difference, things seem to happen to prevent their work from proceeding, or they get sick or disillusioned and find it very difficult to keep going? What unseen forces if any are at work here? I can’t accept the notion that it’s the devil etc. In light of what you spoke on in regard to inner authority (commonsense) are we actually sabotaging and putting in place the stumbling blocks ourselves? Is this an inner battle? Any thoughts please. — V. O’H., Wellington, New Zealand

A: You are right, Vicky. In our efforts to do the right thing, we almost invariably encounter obstacles, sometimes steep and unexpected ones. Like you, I’d rather not find a scapegoat in the devil. But to blame myself for sabotaging my own efforts and for placing stumbling blocks in my own way could be a bit harsh. I want to stay alert to this possibility, but there seems to be a less self-accusatory understanding of what is happening. Life seems to always give us just the right task for learning what we need to learn. We might tackle a project thinking that this is now our task, but suddenly life confronts us with a different one. Learning patience might for instance be our real task at that stage in life; or learning even greater courage, or flexibility, or persistence, or all of these virtues. You are right: it is an inner task although I would call it a growth process rather than a battle. Our outer work is only the occasion for this inner learning. Progress will depend on asking again and again, “What is life’s lesson for me, today?”

— Your Brother David

Everything is Surprise
Br. David Steindl-Rast