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Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. When that happens I reach for Thomas a Kempis’ classic book, The Imitation of Christ, and before I know it, I’m sound asleep. I know that doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement for such a wonderful book: “Read The Imitation of Christ and fall asleep.”

But I do heartily recommend this book because normally when I can’t sleep the reason is I have crazy, nonsensical, weird thoughts bouncing around in my mind, that I can’t stop, so I read the deep, yet down to earth, thoughts of Thomas a Kempis. I read a chapter or two until I hit upon a phrase or a sentence that speaks to my heart, and I memorize it. I repeat it over and over until it drives out all other insanity coursing through my brain, and then I am back asleep.

This last week there was a night that I couldn’t sleep and I started reading The Imitation of Christ, chapter 26, which Thomas a Kempis titled “Of the exaltation of a free spirit”. That is where I encountered the sentence “Give me courage to resist, patience to endure, constancy to persevere.”

That is a great prayer for all kinds of different situations that we might find ourselves in, but what Kempis had in mind is the Christian’s struggle between fleshly consolations with present delights and the love of eternal things. Kempis is praying for God’s help that he stay focused on eternal things that will never fade away, like love for God and man, paying attention to heavenly things, and the sweet unction of the Holy Spirit, and that he not be entangled by the necessities and pleasures of the body, or deceived by the world and its short glory.

That is a prayer that we should pray everyday because we live in a world that tempts us in every way to focus on the hear and now, to attain pleasure because we deserve it, and to indulge our desires because we only live once. Those are lies from the world and the devil and our flesh is most ready to believe them.

People talk about being free spirits, but we can only truly be free spirits when we cast off the weights of pride, untie the ropes of immediate gratification and break the chains of materialism. God give us the courage to resist worldly temptations, patience to endure to the end, and constancy to persevere in Your Way, no matter what the cost. Amen.

The flower and the plant in the photo above is Cylindropuntia fulgida, also known as the jumping cholla or jumping cactus. Of course it doesn’t really jump, but one gets that impression when one wanders too close to it. Just barely touch it and you will have at least one, if not more, cactus burrs stuck to your jeans or flesh if you are wearing shorts. You could almost swear the burrs jumped off the plant and onto you. At least that has been my experience on many occasion as these cactus are common in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I live.

This plant is an apt metaphor for the quote above by Thomas a Kempis. Many times we complain or murmur about the burr stuck on our pants or embedded in our skin, and we miss the simple beauty of the flower. We are surrounded by simple beauty, gifts from God, no matter where we live, but with our bent nature, we are more likely to complain about inconveniences and disruptions than we are to be content with things simple.

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Philippians 2:14

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Philippians 4:12

God, help us as your dearly loved children to learn, like Paul, the secret of being content, and to think, at least twice, before we open our mouths to murmur, grumble and complain.

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