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Augustine on Conversion: Pleasure Only After Discomfort

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The Confessions of St. Augustine (Week 8 of 15)

This week's reading struck me in many ways, but especially as Augustine wrote about the concept of pleasure only after discomfort:

Human beings obtain normal pleasures of human life not as they come on us unexpectedly and against our will, but after discomforts which are planned and accepted by deliberate choice. There is no pleasure in eating and drinking unless they are preceded by the unpleasant sensation of hunger and thirst.

Confessions, Book VIII, Ch. 7

I have a four-month-old infant. The pleasure of sleeping is something I especially appreciate right now. I had forgotten how much I enjoy sleeping and how much I need to sleep in uninterrupted stretches until about four months ago.

This isn't my first child, mind you. He's number four. And yet, even so, I had forgotten this simple reality of life: sleep is good.

In my early 20s, I used to scorn sleep. “I'll sleep when I'm DEAD!” I'd proclaim, staying up all night at any excuse. “Sleeping: that's what people who are bored do!” I had a whole collection of derogatory statements relating to sleep, and I can't help but be a bit sheepish about that.

Running off my mouth: maybe not such a great trait to have, huh?

My attitude about silence has undergone a similar change (could it be maturity?). As I find myself in a different state of life, one filled with the activity of others dictating my every moment, I find that moments of stillness and silence are pure gold. They are rare and hard-won, and they are to be appreciated as such.

But would I even notice them if it were not for the chaos that sometimes threatens to drown me?

Augustine points to a reality that I would do well to ponder more deeply. Why is it the absence that makes me appreciate the good, the “normal pleasures of life”?

And what can I do, this week, to savor those normal pleasures as they come to me (and not as they disappear)?

Reading Assignment:

Book IX

Discussion Questions:

1. What normal pleasure of life do you find yourself taking for granted?

2. How can you better appreciate the normal pleasures in your life?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Sarah Reinhard

Sarah Reinhard continues to delight ”and be challenged by” her vocations of Catholic wife and mother. She's online at and is the author of a number of books for families.

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