“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”
My wife read this verse to me last night while we were discussing all that we have been through in the past month. This Scripture was illumined through the light of our recent affliction/suffering. I have read this Scripture before and maybe understood it somewhat in my mind. However, I do not believe that I have ever truly understood it in my experience and I am sure I still do not fully understand it.
This past month has been filled with Covid, colds, flu, more and more of a realization of the demonic state of our country, the possible threat of losing my job, and multiple close calls with my spiritual father, Abba Moses. These things have caused my wife and me to do a lot of thinking/rethinking our life both in the general and in particulars.
The general conclusion is that I do not want to go on living the same way I have up to this point. I want to become a more pious, humble, and loving person. It is time for me to make first things first.
I have been given to leisure and without realizing it piety has not always been the priority in my life. This is not to say I have neglected piety or that God has not been working in me. I just realize it is time for some changes and a little reorientation. I am grateful for this self-knowledge and these new desires. I pray that these are not soon taken from me.
These things have been given as a direct result of the suffering we have recently endured and because of that, I want to change the way I respond to suffering.
I have always feared suffering. I do not pretend to not fear it now, but I feel that God has taught myself and Brooke the importance it has in our life. I am not ready to run toward it and I pray God allows me many years with my wife and children. However, I cannot live in fear. When I found out that Fr. Moses was in desperate shape it shook me to the core. I was tormented by fear.
I had recently written down a journal post expressing my fear, sorrow, and torment at the prospect of losing Fr. Moses. Fears of being left an orphan. Not knowing who to turn to for guidance, confession, etc. It was terrible fear and I am still subject to that temptation though I hope I will refrain from allowing it to take me in. When I hear those whispers of the evil one I want to recognize them for what they are. God does not speak those types of words.
I hope that I can hold onto these thoughts. I hope that I can learn to embrace suffering as a gift that brings me into closer communion with God which is what it is intended for.
The evil one also knows that that is the purpose of suffering. This is why he is zealous to help us to evade it. He did this to Christ during the 40-day temptation. The evil one was trying to lead Him to flee from the suffering that would work out our Salvation. Christ rebuked all of the efforts of the evil one because He came to suffer. In like manner, Christ has called us to do the same. To suffer willingly, to embrace it and allow it to bring us into communiton with God.
We must embrace suffering because suffering itself does not necessarily lead to communion with God. The results of suffering have to do with the way that we respond to it- fleeing from it vs. embracing it.
I have spent more time practicing the art of fleeing suffering than I would like to admit to.
I have not been able to completely evade it, no one can. However, on the whole, I think I have been fairly successful. Even when I lost my mother during my senior year of high school, which is one of the most severe sufferings I have experienced, I immediately fled. I went out that very night with friends to chemically run from my suffering. I continued that path for a good while and hardened my heart in the process. From this form of response, I just got better at fleeing.
To use suffering, as it was intended, you must receive it with the right disposition. Do not flee from it. Embrace it. Let it pin you down. Let it hold you in the fire. Let it bring you to prayer and let it bring you inside yourself, inside your heart, that is where God is. There, in your heart, you will meet God, and there He will teach you His ways.
This is not a one-and-done action. This is not something you will perfect in a moment not even if the moment is that of intense suffering. This is something that will need to be worked at every day of this life.
The work will not be finished until the last breath is ushered out of your body.
Suffering is at the heart of the Christian life.
By John Pearlstein