March - April 2018

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

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“What I need is a healthy dose of I don’t care,” my friend blurted over the telephone as we shared our struggles in life and ministry. His words articulated the common frustration pastors often face as we seek to faithfully do the work of the Lord. Amid mounting pressures, dissatisfied people, consuming minutia, and multiple obstacles, my friend and I came to the mutual conclusion that our greatest problem was not others, but ourselves—and the remedy was a dose of I don’t care. The phrase resonated, and it reverberates in me to this day.

Over 400 years ago, Saint Ignatius spoke about the need for what he called holy indifference. This indifference is not aimless apathy. Rather, it is a striving, by God’s grace, to embrace nothing but God and His will—a prioritizing that produces indifference toward the everyday problems that plague us as mortals.

To be clear, holy indifference is not the same as indifference in general. God does not call us to be indifferent to the needs of those around us. When we are ambivalent toward matters of justice, abuses of power, racial bigotry, sexual harassment, compassion toward the marginalized, and concern for the lost, our indifference magnifies the brokenness. There are plenty of troubles in this world about which we should never be indifferent. What is needed among holiness people is not careless disregard. Holy indifference, properly practiced, draws us toward people and issues that matter to God.

My friend and I came to the mutual conclusion that our greatest problem was not others, but ourselves.

Saint Ignatius was so serious about holy indifference, that he encouraged it toward personal well-being, monetary gain, and even longevity of life. While his application may seem radical, there is no doubt we are inclined to elevate ourselves and our own interests above those of others. Self-exaltation seems to be a valued virtue in our society. But we as Christians understand it to be an indication that we are “very far gone from original righteousness” (Manual, Article V.). In a culture that exalts self, we remember that we follow One who calls us to deny self.

Holy indifference is a focused longing to be with Christ and in Christ and like Christ on all matters. Living with this interior disposition causes everything else outside of the heart of Christ to fade in significance. Helen Howarth Lemmel beautifully expressed the thought when she wrote:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face;
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.

As we practice holy indifference, Jesus becomes the focal point of our lives, giving us perspective on other matters—those lesser things that used to worry and frustrate us. Priorities fall into place. Seeking God’s heart becomes our sole pursuit. And avenues open for spiritual maturity.

The Apostle Paul testified along these lines as he described his secret of contentment: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:12, NIV). The more Paul gave his complete attention to Jesus, the less the peripheral matters of his own life mattered. The result was authentic contentment.

I am increasingly aware that what I need most is not better management tools or surefire strategies. I do not need fixes to all of my external problems. I do not need more of the right people in my life, or fewer wrong people in my life, and I do not need my desires to be satisfied. I need Jesus—just Jesus—and to be willing to seek what He wants. Peripheral matters need to grow dim. Only then will I realize authentic contentment deep within me.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.