Life in the modern age is one that is full of activity. It seems that every moment of our waking lives can be accounted for in some manner of work, chore, or distraction. Every space in time is occupied by something, with little to no room for pause. We can duly expect our work and / or school weeks to be packed with laden schedules- but how many of us start our week on Monday wishing we had a weekend to recover from the weekend? We are constantly on the go, even when we should otherwise be at rest. Accustomed to such busy-ness, it is small wonder that so many of us tend to be ill at ease, restless, or bored when some bit of down-time does in fact manage to crowbar its way into our agendas. There’s a creeping sense of emptiness that brings about a state of mental discomfort, one that presents a need to be filled. And with what do we fill that emptiness? Distraction.
Distraction becomes a balm on the mind to soothe a restless soul- it fills the cracks, the gaps, the emptiness….it gives us a temporary (and artificial) sense of wholeness, whether or not we are actually aware of it doing so on a conscious level. If we are constantly seeking to fill the empty moments with some manner of activity or distraction, we are playing into the hands of the enemy of our souls. This may seem to be a bit of an extreme claim, but it is true nonetheless. In filling every possible moment, we aren’t so much driving away a mundane sense of boredom or restlessness, but are in effect dulling our inherent sense of need and hunger for God and His mercy. The enemy of our souls uses such situations to entangle us in the worldly, and to intoxicate us with the material so that we don’t actively seek the spiritual. We become so overindulged with distraction that our spiritual hunger and longing is artificially alleviated, and so we no longer seek true sustenance in God, in His Word, or in His Church… it’s analogous to filling up on junk food right before a proper meal (and so, no longer wanting or needing to eat that meal). But it doesn’t truly satisfy our need and so we are soon hungry again…we indulge in more junk or another distraction, instead of fulfilling that need with what will truly satiate it.
In our fallen existence, God allows for emptiness and longing- not so that we can be made to suffer or feel some manner of being punished or mentally / spiritually tortured, but so that we would realize our need for His presence and grace in our lives. God didn’t create us to be puppets, nor does He compel us against our will. Rather, He desires that we seek Him with our hearts and minds, fully and completely. Our longing for God draws us closer to Him. The emptiness we feel makes us aware of our connection to Him and our need draws us closer to Him (and so, we can be filled with His love and grace). Does this mean that we should exclude hobbies or exploring interests from our lives? No. Rather, we need simply to slow down a little (or in many cases, a lot), open up our daily agendas a bit, and allow for quiet, empty moments. These breaks allow us a bit of pause and reflection, and provide some “space” for us to not only feel our longing, but to truly understand that longing for what it is and so seek the right and true sustenance for it: God and His mercy.
The time we are given in which to live our lives is a precious gift from God. We move through our days mostly unaware of the passing moments, and often unaware of the hours that we squander in pointless pursuits and petty trifles. I would argue that it is an extraordinary person indeed who can account for *every* moment of his or her life in grace-filled productiveness, contemplation, prayer, or other manner of activity that is wholly centered on God (if such a one even exists!). All of us waste some amount of time. But to squander our days utterly in a wholly unaware state, in the assumption that we will have a wealth of future moments, days, weeks, and even years to follow is dangerous folly at the very least, and truly sinful at worst.
When we are ill-attentive and devoid of a sense of deeper purpose, we edge into complacency- and this can take shape in the everyday or mundane, but it is especially perilous in regard to the spirit or “spiritual”. When we slip into this state, we no longer focus on moving forward in any regard, and we cease in our striving toward God in any meaningful way. Our spiritual development and growth is arrested and ultimately stagnates in stasis.
When we lose a deeper appreciation of the preciousness of the moments with which God has blessed us, we become forgetful of religiously meaningful endeavors and motivation, and we easily slide into neglecting the role that church and prayer serve within in our lives. Here, we gradually shed (or perhaps even throw off outright) the armor of God’s grace, and open ourselves to being vulnerable to the enemy of our souls. And this is exactly what he would want of us. After all, his slow needling is far less effective when we are applying the means to repel such attacks. The means of the enemy are far more effective when we are in stasis, when we are without that which protects us, without those exercises and habits which keep our focus honed, and our senses sharp. Rarely will he seek a blatant, full assault- his preference is the slow, imperceptible pricking of his poisonous darts.
Strive to live an attentive life, work toward spiritual growth and make the effort to sustain a regular prayer rule. Remain watchful, that you may avoid the snares of complacency and forgetfulness of God and His grace. Our lives are fleeting, and the store of hours at our disposal is not only finite, but uncertain. None know the hour at which our Heavenly Father will call us from this life and it is of the greatest importance that we remain aware of the manner in which we spend this small portion of treasure that He has shared with us.
One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. For in her, as in a rich treasury, the apostles have placed all that pertains to truth, so that everyone can drink this beverage of life. She is the door of life.
-St. Irenaeus of Lyons
If there is no joy in your witness, what then would compel me to follow you along your professed “path”?
This is a question I initially raised to a non-Catholic, non-Orthodox friend…a great guy, a great family man, a devout Christian- but one so full of anger in his arguments. Over time, I began to wonder where in his soul does the joy of Christ reside? There seemed to be too much bitterness over the issues discussed or debated to allow a sense of joy to rest within his heart or to be expressed through dialogue. Granted, it sounds as if I’m being judgemental and implying my friend has anger issues- no, that’s not it… but his frustrations over injustices and the growing unrighteousness of the secular world seem to overshadow his message, and this came across more noticeably to me in the period before my coming back to the Church, when I was more apt to debate from my own distorted positions. In the end, it wasn’t any of his valid points of discussions / truth of his arguments that really convinced me to come back, but the very living example of my girlfriend (now, wife)- sure, she would get and gets angry and may express her frustrations, but there is an unshakable faith and joy that permeates her very being, and is at the core of that from which she draws in the challenging moments life throws at us.
Perhaps similarly, I far too often see the first example come to the fore on social media, especially Facebook. I belong to a number of discussion groups- these days, my workload prevents me from being active or as active as I really would like to be….none-the-less, I see a lot of (frankly speaking) bitterness and anger- snipes, unfriendly arguments, and all such manner of unpleasantness that is quite a turn-off. It wouldn’t be so much an issue in more mundane groups, but these are *religious* discussion groups of which I’m writing- and Catholic / Orthodox groups at that! Granted, one may make the legitimate point that we cannot base our opinions of things-religious (groups, communities, etc.) on what we read on social media, but I would like to posit the position that if one were seeking (information, to get a feel of members of a particular Church or expression, etc.), it’s likely such a one would turn to this means of communication as a first effort to establish contact, raise questions, and make the first efforts to learn…… is the immediate face of that Church or expression rife with bitterness, arguing, insult, and a clear lack of charity and joy? What manner of impression would that serve to create?
There is nothing wrong with disagreement, debate, or even spirited discussion- but we must maintain to our Christian principle of charity, we have to keep in mind that our manner of expressing ourselves may be a seeker’s inspiration to explore and learn further, or it may very well be the drive which pushes him or her away, meandering lost on winding and confusing roads that lead not to salvation, but to a complete separation from God and his Holy Church.
Again, and in closing, If there is no joy in your witness, what then would compel me to follow you along your professed “path”?
This series of petitions of St. John Chrysostom can be found with slightly varying wording, but the essentials remain the same. It can be prayed in entirety, or one petition per hour of the day / evening (which, of course would be an excellent way to help one adhere to St. Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17]).
24. O Lord, Who knowest Thy creation and that which Thou hast willed for it; may Thy will also be fulfilled in me, a sinner, for Thou art blessed forevermore. Amen.