Wholly Indifferent, or Holy Indifference?

There is an interesting dynamic that plays itself out in the spiritual lives of many souls. It is the struggle between the conflicting attitudes of one being wholly indifferent and of one practicing holy indifference.

To be wholly indifferent means that a person is not particularly concerned with or perhaps even aware of the challenges, trials or suffering of society as a whole. In some instances, these individuals might not even be aware of or in any way concerned about the sufferings of those in their immediate circle. As a result, these individuals seldom, if ever, make time to offer prayers and sacrifices for others.

It is not that these people are maliciously uncaring, it is simply that they become so caught up in their own circumstances, desires, aspirations and expectations of what they want God to do in their lives. It is that they simply are not involved with the plight of those around them, whether these challenges concern individuals they read about on the pages of the newspaper or persons in their own immediate family.

Again, these are not bad people; they may well go to Church, pray regularly and even have reputations as good and thoughtful individuals. However, the central focus of their lives, including their practice of faith and their prayer life, is centered almost exclusively on the issues that affect their personal lives.  Even when they do pray about the issues of others in their lives, it may only be done to relieve the burden the situation is placing on themselves. We are all aware of these people – we may even have been one of them at some point in our own spiritual journey.  Scripture has some advice on the matter.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

Conversely, there are those souls who are the polar opposite of the wholly indifferent; these are the souls who practice what we call holy indifference. Holy indifference is the opposite of being wholly indifferent because it adopts the attitude of placing all the cares and worries of our life, our personal circumstances, into the hands of God and living a life of complete faith that God will handle everything.

“Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).

The blessed souls who can practice this degree of faith in God’s providential care for their lives can also practice this holy indifference, which means that they do not live with anxiety, fear, doubt or concern.

Every single day they simply commend their lives and all their circumstances to God, and then they go about their daily routine, including prayer, with complete confidence that whatever happens to them will simply be the Will of God working itself out in their lives. They do not attempt to measure whether the events of their lives are good or bad. They accept that God will work through what appears to be good, and what may, on the surface, appear to be bad. They are holy indifferent to it all.

This is not to say that these souls live with some stoic acceptance of the inevitable consequences of circumstances they cannot control. That is not a Christian perspective. Instead, these individuals see everything that happens to them not as chaotic accidents of nature, but as the natural manifestation of God lovingly working through their lives to continually transform them into perfect models of charity.

These people live by the scripture verse found in Romans, and they repeat it to themselves daily, sometimes hourly, and, most especially, in those seasons of trial which we all encounter.

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

The real difference between those souls who pray predominantly for the things they hope to see happen in their lives—or their own will, and those who pray that God’s Will be fulfilled in their lives, is the difference of those who seek first an earthly Kingdom and those who seek first the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 6:33).

This practice of holy indifference brings about a profound freedom of spirit, which is borne of and benefits from the daily act of prayer.  This free spirit allows these souls to spend a great deal more of their time being concerned for, involved in and praying for the needs of their immediate community and the world.

Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis

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About the Author

Mark Danis

Mark Danis, OCDS, is co-host of the weekly radio program, Carmelite Conversations, which aired internationally for six years on the Radio Maria network. The program focuses on the method and blessings of contemplative prayer practiced in the in our busy day to day lives. Episodes can be streamed at http://www.carmeliteconversations.com.

Mark's primary ministry is providing teaching and spiritual direction in contemplative prayer and removing the obstacles to prayer. He is grounded primarily in the teachings of the Carmelites, most especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Mark is a popular speaker and often gives large-group presentations and retreats on Prayer and Carmelite spirituality. He also writes a weekly reflection on prayer for a large nation-wide prayer community, and he leads a weekly prayer group focused on the Teresian Method of Prayer. Mark's most recent appearance was at the 2018 OCDS Congress where he delivered a powerful message to more than 400 Secular Carmelites.

Mark attended St. Michael’s college in Winooski, Vermont, where he received his undergraduate degree in English Literature. He later received a masters degree in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

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