The Freedom of Indifference 

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An old Taoist folktale tells of a poor farmer who found a beautiful wild horse; the neighbors marveled at his good luck—until the horse threw him and he broke his leg. The neighbors whispered of his misfortune—then the emperor’s soldiers came to the village, commanding every able-bodied man to join the army, and the farmer was spared.  

St. Ignatius of Loyola taught that followers of Christ “must make ourselves indifferent to all created things . . . we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life.” A challenging teaching, to be sure! But like the Taoist farmer, St. Ignatius understood that God’s ways do not always neatly line up with our earthly ideas about fortune (or misfortune).  

When Jacob’s jealous sons sell their brother Joseph into slavery, we could easily regard the story as a horrific tragedy; on a purely human level, it is indeed a terrible tale of injustice and abuse. But Joseph’s bad luck set in motion a series of events that led to his becoming an influential leader in Egypt who is able to save his brothers, father, and their families from famine. When Joseph reassures his brothers that “God sent me here ahead of you,” it’s tempting to see him as exhibiting an almost saintly degree of forgiveness. Perhaps Joseph’s generous kindness stemmed from his understanding that a truly wise person finds joy not in external circumstances but in the freedom only God can give.  

© Liturgical Press.

Carl McColman

Carl McColman ( is a contemplative blogger and the author of Eternal Heart and The New Big Book of Christian Mysticism

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