“When conversion takes place, the process of revelation occurs in a very simple way- a person is in need, he suffers, and then somehow the other world opens up. The more you are in suffering and difficulties and are ‘desperate’ for God, the more He is going to come to your aid, reveal Who He is and show you the way out…”
―St. Seraphim Rose
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
―C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
We have been stuck in a rough patch for a while now which has been a learning experience for us. While there are worse places we could be and that we have been in, this has been a tough stretch and we aren’t out of the woods yet. (Days after starting this article, I came down with Corona and the majority of my house is sick as well). What we have been learning through this time is how easily we are satisfied with the faux solutions of this world that seek to lead us away from suffering rather than embracing it.
What brought this idea to mind and inspired this post was an incident that occurred the other day. For some reason, I woke up with internal pain. My heart was suffering. I needed to be alone and thankfully my wife encouraged me to go to the room and have some alone time. I sat in the chair and was alone with my thoughts that were going everywhere. I was feeling overwhelmed with many things. My wife brought me a piece of paper with the words of the Psalmist- “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19. I repeated those words over and over. While I was doing this the thought of doing something fun with my family came to mind and dispelled the pain.
On the surface, this seems like a wonderful thing- that just looking forward to that particular family activity brought me peace. However, as I was thinking about the Prophet’s words I realized that I was missing the mark. I was using a thing, that in itself is good, as a way to escape from the suffering- the pain of heart.
What gives evidence to the fact that this was not a good solution to my sorrows is that it took me away from where I should have been at that moment- in prayer. The time would come when we would enjoy that family activity, but it was not now. I needed to be present and I needed to endure this pain of heart and, by enduring, commune with God even if only for a short time. The quick solution sought to alleviate the pain and cut short my prayer, my communion with God.
The problem is that we try to run away from pain and suffering. That is the overwhelming goal of the world around us- to escape suffering. The world offers us its bread and circus to escape the pain. The world has something for everyone. The evil one is behind all of this. If, as Fr. Seraphim pointed out, the other world draws near to us through suffering then the evil one will gladly offer to bail us out. We must be careful not to fall for this.
We are called to use suffering to draw near to God. We are called to pick up our cross and follow Him. We are called to participate in His suffering. And in this suffering, we find delight in His comforts. His comforts are, first and foremost, His Communion with us through the Sacraments and services of the Church.
When we are broken we must not allow ourselves to be satisfied by the bread and circus of the world around us. We must not look for the easy way out. We must allow ourselves to feel the pain and to stay there until He comforts us with Himself.
This process leads to what the Orthodox Church calls “Joyful Sorrow.” This defies the logic of this world by bringing into one place what the world would consider complete opposites- suffering and joy.
We see this resolution of the opposites most poignantly in the life of the Saints and Martyrs of the Orthodox Church. They sought the crown of martyrdom because they know that it was in that suffering and pain that they would be united to their Lord. Suffering was not to be avoided, it was to be embraced. This is the mind of the Church and sets itself in stark contrast to the mind of the world. Set these Saints before your eyes and pray that we can come to acquire this mindset in ourselves.
“Remembrance of God is pain of heart endured in a spirit of devotion: but he who forgets God becomes self-indulgent and insensitive.”
― St. Mark the Ascetic
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
― Blessed Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
I write this in dedication to my Spiritual Father, Father Moses Berry, who is suffering and fighting for life even as I post this.