Are We Seeking God or Self-consolation?
-Some Thoughts Inspired by a Saying of Elder Macarius of Optina
I wish I had come across this bit of wisdom many years ago, while I was drifting away from God and His holy Church…. It definitely applied to me, and in the course of man’s shared brokenness, I think it is true for many others as well. How many of us equate the love or presence of God or God’s healing / healing mercy with immediate consolation and feel-good vibes? How many of us mistake or have mistaken the lack of a sense of emotional comfort or a lack of being at ease within our hearts as the absence of God or the lack of “getting something fulfilling” out our faith, church, God, etc… “it just isn’t doing it for me”….
Perhaps it isn’t “doing it” for you- but that’s not for the absence of God or the seeming failings of the Church. Rather, it is because in our brokenness, you and I may be looking for an immediate emotional gratification or a bit of pleasant escape, instead of the real, deeper salvific healing that we should otherwise be seeking. One may argue that if God’s Church were the hospital of the soul (a truth of which we are often reminded), shouldn’t we feel better, more joyful, more at peace, more……… in our distorted thinking, we not only fail to see things clearly and we mistake temporary happiness and a “feel good” moment for true, deep joy.. we mistake the consolation of our self for true spiritual healing and a bigger picture of seeking salvation and the ultimate union with God.
One point that many of us (yes, I’m admitting guilt here) may have failed to consider in the grand scheme of things is a simple truth that no one promised us an easy, emotionally comfortable life. In our distorted thinking, we somehow think that our religious path should free us from the bitterness of the world, or the effects of its fallen nature -the pain, sorrow, disappointment, etc. But why are we so entitled? Did not Christ himself suffer in his humanity….did not / do not the countless martyrs of the past and today? Why would we then think we are so entitled to uninterrupted bliss? Our distorted thinking is at the very root of that. After all, our Lord himself tells us (Matthew 16:24), “if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Where are we to follow Him- to a picnic? …to a relaxing day of sunbathing by a beautiful, tropical sea? No. We follow Him into hardship, into suffering, into that which brings us through the morass of the world and into salvation….a far cry from a temporary, immediate, and artificial sense of joy, comfort, and the narrow perspective of a worldly consolation of spirit. In many western circles, suffering is all too often erroneously mistaken for God’s punishment or a withdrawal of His grace and blessing. But this is a gross departure from the teachings of the true Church which reminds us that suffering is not a punishment at all, but a way of overcoming that which afflicts us in this fallen world- we “crucify the flesh” in overcoming the passions that would sever us from God’s grace, threaten to keep us mired in our brokenness, and joined to that which separates us from Him. We need to resist the urge to gain the temporary consolations of the immediate, lest we forsake the eternal joys of our salvation and ultimate union with God.
The quoted scriptural passage was taken from the New King James Version ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.