I heard a talk by Fr. Jeremiah Shryock. One of the many wise things he said was, “Nobody on this earth has 100% purity of intention. God will work with whatever we have.”
That was something I really needed to hear. I had this distorted belief that a good Christian – someone who wants to be a saint – lives only for the glory of God, only to please God. They serve out of love for God, not from a desire for some kind of personal benefit.
On the one hand we should act out of love for God and neighbor rather than our own personal gain. On the other hand, when we serve, we feel good, so that’s a benefit. If we didn’t feel good, would we still serve? I don’t know because serving always makes me feel good – always benefits me as much as it does others. I cannot see how to separate the two – serving God and being blessed by that service. If I am blessed, does that negate my intentions?
Let’s consider some examples:
- It’s Lent and I decide to give up sweets. I love sweets but they are bad for me, so I choose to sacrifice them. If I lose weight and my blood sugar numbers improve, I have benefited from this sacrifice. Do I have 100% purity of intention if I know it will benefit my body? No, I do not. Is it still an acceptable sacrifice? Yes, it is. It is still difficult. Maybe without making it a sacrifice for Lent, I would never give up sweets.
- Someone leads a small men’s group at church. He began it because he wanted to be part of a community of men who support each other and grow in their faith. Does he have 100% purity of intention? No. He hopes to benefit spiritually from the group, but he also wants others to benefit. Is this still an acceptable sacrifice? Yes. He is doing God’s work.
- I lead Sisters in Faith, a women’s group that meets monthly. I began the group because I wanted to be around other women who loved the Lord and wanted to share that love with others. My goal in a meeting is to help others feel God’s presence and love, and grow in faith and trust in our most perfect God. I get so much out of these meetings, even though I lead the group. Do I have 100% purity of intention knowing that I’m going to feel good after the meeting? No. Is it still an acceptable way to serve God? Yes. Absolutely.
- I love going to Mass. It is when I feel closest to God. I want to be there. I want to worship God. I want to enter into His presence. I want to receive Him in the Eucharist – the Most Blessed Sacrament. If I did not get so many blessings out of Mass, would I still want to be there to worship God? I hope the answer is yes, but I don’t know because I always gain. Do I have 100% purity of intention? No. Does that matter? No. God still showers graces down on me.
- I pray a rosary because I feel an obligation to that prayer. While praying, I often get distracted and sometimes I even fall asleep. I might conclude that my prayer was worthless because I wasn’t 100% focused throughout the entire time. But I would be wrong. My prayer is still pleasing to God.
There are many ways we might do God’s will without 100% purity of intention. Clearly the things we do, even if less that 100%, are pleasing to God. It’s kind of like being a parent or a spouse. We don’t expect to be perfect parents. We don’t expect to be perfect wives or perfect husbands. Why then would we expect to be perfect in the way we love and serve God?
It’s true that Jesus said, Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). I want to be perfect, but I know that I am only human. Any good that I do is by the grace of God. And Jesus did not say that we should not know the joy of doing His will even when our intentions are imperfect.
I started to search scripture to see where I got this idea that my motives must be 100% pure when I serve God. Scripture talks about having a clean heart – a pure heart, and about doing things out of love for God and others rather than for the approval of the world. It doesn’t say we should not feel good about the work we do for God. It doesn’t say we should avoid doing something if we might also benefit from it. That cannot be our only motivation, but it’s okay and natural for us to be blessed when we serve others.
Where did this false idea originate, that my imperfect intentions are somehow a disappointment to God? I feel confident in saying that it came from the enemy of my soul. God does not tell us we are not enough. God does not discourage us when we serve Him. Those are attacks from the enemy. He wants to convince us that we should stop loving and serving because we cannot do it perfectly. He wants to keep us from knowing the perfect love of God, who accepts all of our pitiful gifts, just like a mother joyfully receives a dandelion from her child.
If you, like me, have struggled and failed to have 100% purity of intention, hear the words of Fr. Jeremiah. “Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Come back when you are perfectly pure.’ Jesus calls all of us to Him, sinners and saints.”
He happily takes our measly old dandelion. He works with whatever we give him. When you begin to doubt that, it’s a red flag that the devil is attacking you. What is it that he doesn’t want you to do? Do it anyway. What is it that he (the devil) doesn’t want you to believe about God? Reject those lies. What is it that he (the enemy) wants you to believe about yourself and your imperfections? Reject those lies as well. God encourages. The enemy discourages.
Is it wrong to feel satisfaction when I am able to serve someone in need? Of course not. We should feel that way. But the feeling should not be the driving force for helping others.
Is it okay to be delighted when God uses us to fulfill His divine plan? Yes! How could we not be delighted to be chosen by God? But do I do God’s will to feel the delight or is it rather a byproduct of the work I do?
All the good that comes from my love for and service of God is part of God’s grace. We can never dismiss it or ignore it. We should embrace it and be grateful for it. God takes delight in us and we should accept that precious gift.
So kick the devil to the curb. Don’t let him steal your joy by accusing you of imperfect intention.
God takes our less than pure intentions and makes them grow to something much greater. Like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes, he takes my dandelion and transforms it into a bouquet of sweet smelling roses.
That is the great God we have. How blessed are we!
Questions for Prayer:
- When have you felt accused of having less than perfect intentions? What was the devil trying to do in your life through that accusation?
- How has God blessed you even when you have had less than perfect intention? How can you more easily receive the graces he offers you?