Becoming Flame: The Turning Point for Those Suffering From Scruples

From The Desert Fathers (ed. Benedicta Ward):

Lot went to Joseph and said, 'Abba, as far as I can, I keep a moderate rule, with a little fasting, and prayer, and meditation, and quiet: and as far as I can I try to cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What else can I do?' Then the hermit stood up and spread out his hands to heaven, and his fingers shone like ten flames of fire, and he said, 'If you will, you can become all flame' (131).

Those of us who struggle with scrupulosity (myself included) fret about religious minutiae and often overdo our religious observance in an attempt to justify and perfect ourselves from our sins, real and perceived. Our fear of sin causes a great deal of anxiety; we struggle to know Christ's freedom.

The monk Lot shows us what the first step toward holiness looks like for the scrupulous person: a moderate (moderate!) rule, a little fasting, prayer, meditation, quiet, and cleansing our hearts of evil thoughts as far as is humanly possible (because having evil thoughts is sometimes outside our control).

Most importantly, Lot shows us the importance of seeking out spiritual direction, which St. Alphonsus Liguori says is necessary for the person suffering from scruples.

But as Abba Joseph shows us, there is more to Christian salvation than Lot's pious life. If we will, we can become all flame. This is theosis in a nutshell. Salvation is more than being saved from sin. Salvation is being saved for unity with God. And unity with God means being drawn into him to the point that we become him.

In Jesus our humanity has been united to God, which is to say that our humanity is united to divinity. God can do this without violating his nature as Creator or our nature as creature because he stands outside his creation. He is other and can therefore enter into his creation as he wills. He does not cease to be God; we do not cease to be his creatures. And yet we become him.

When we turn our attention from being saved from to being saved for, we discover how much God is fighting for us. For me, this was the single most important turning point in my struggle against scruples. When my spiritual director told me to meditate every day on God's love for me, I discovered that God isn't ready to jump on me for each and ever fault and failing. He is loving and patient with me because He wants - wants! - to give me his very self.

When I began to believe this, I began to experience freedom, despite those pesky scruples. I have learned that I can ignore my doubts (so hard to do, by the way) because God wants me to know the freedom he offers in Christ. By God's grace, if I keep my eyes on him, I too will become all flame.