When Details Get You Down | Notes & Reflections

Posted on February 24, 2009


Just kinda needed this in my current season. Not sure why, but as I read it, I just felt “close” to it in some way.

“When Details Get You Down” by Chris Armstrong. 2/20/2009 (.pdf)


A few quotes that sum:

“While my mind obliged me to serve this present world in outward action,” he wrote, ” its cares began to threaten me so that I was in danger of being engulfed in it not only in outward action, but, what is more serious, in my mind.”

Gregory lost the desire of his heart for an uninterrupted life of study and contemplation.

He was immediately swamped with business as never before. It absorbed his hours, filled his thoughts, and troubled his heart. In a letter he wrote: “I am being smashed by many waves of affairs and afflicted by a life of tumults, so that I may rightly say: I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me [Ps. 69:2].”

The biblical story that came alive for him on this matter was that of Rachel and Leah. In that allegoric way of thinking that seems odd today but which was standard then, Gregory saw “Rachel” as the contemplative life: beautiful but infertile-and at first, completely unattainable. As Gregory wrote to the Empress Theoctista upon his elevation to the papacy, he had been “coupled in the night … to the fertile Leah”-that is, the life of active ministry.

In the biblical story, “Jacob begins with Leah, attains Rachel, and returns to Leah.” It was something like this that Gregory discovered while leading in turbulent Rome. How could life with the productive Leah and the beautiful Rachel be combined?

Gregory concluded that each strengthens the other in a never-ending cycle: the contemplative life equipping us for the active life, and the active life grounding us in acts of love to our neighbors, to keep us from floating off into spiritual pride and irrelevance.

To Gregory, the lesson was clear: service and prayer are the two essential sides of a redemptive and productive ministry. By living an active life, full of works of neighbor-love; expressing the virtues of faith, hope, and charity; growing in the fruit of the Spirit, one arrives at more intense and joyful contemplation.


Gregory’s Rule of Pastoral Care.

I suppose I feel tired. I suppose I feel a heavy weight around my shoulders that is becoming increasingly difficult to bear. Some of it might be my extreme introverted nature, and the many personal meetings and counseling appointments I’ve had. Perhaps I’m so married to “Leah” that I have forsaken “Rachel,” and like Gregory, continually return to Leah. Finding that delicate balance has never been easy.

And while I’ve dedicated my life to serving God through the ministries of a local church, the irony of taking up that cross is that it just might actually kill me. What happens when “dying to self” shifts from a motivational sacrament, to a visceral, literal actuality?