Barriers to Repentance 6/7
by Shery Abdelmalak
How long O’ Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will my enemies triumph over me? (Ps 13:1)When will the pain stop? I have cried out night and day before You. My soul is full of trouble and my life is drawing near to the grave (Ps 88:3).In the darkness, in the depths, I cry out to You. I tried so hard, God. Why can’t anyone see that? Nothing is working. Why won’t You answer me? How could you leave me like this?
It is the psalms of King David that revealed the depth of despair and sadness. King David felt pain and turned it over to God. For the moments that he stopped looking down and looked up to God, he found comfort. He realised that he was dust, but dust that was carried in the mighty Hands of our God.
This is the means of overcoming one’s ego and pursuing Christ. Humus, from the Latin word, soil, is what we strive for, nothing more, nothing less. To know that from dust I came and to dust I shall return. I am what I am, period. How can you put so much emphasis on dust?Humble yourself before the Lord and He shall lift you up (James 4:10).
It isn’t always that simple though. When trials come our way, it becomes difficult to look at anything beyond myself. From dust I came, and from dust I shall return – this is not a matter of self-depreciation but the ultimate comfort. All the stress, the worry, the anxiety, goes away when I can put things into perspective. It no longer becomes my problem, but His – in His Hands in put all my worries.
The struggles of this life can often be looked upon with angst and doubt. Rest assured, as Fr Seraphim Rose once said, “Suffering is an indication of another Kingdom which we look to. If being Christian meant being “happy” in this life, we wouldn’t need the Kingdom of Heaven.”Do not lose hope during trials, these are key to faith and salvation!
What can develop during times of tribulation is what Fr Daniel Fanous calls an obsession with me. This is comprised of three main parts:
- One’s thoughts being central to self
- An ignorance toward those around one’s self
- Being stuck in one’s own thought world
To be in this state is often neglected as a legitimate concern. While other spiritual problems are targeted much sooner, the ego poses a problem that is not easily overcome because of a lack of recognition. Repentance cannot even begin when I am so focused on me. Overcoming feelings of depression, anxiety and all other spiritual related causes that weigh us down is vital to returning to God through repentance.
For this, Fr Daniel Fanous lists some strategies;
- A sustained and intentional effort. We all fall along the spectrum of egotism. Recognise your position and fight to overcome.
- Seek help, with organic causes and hormonal changes as these are beyond the realm of spiritual healing alone.
- Develop a strong relationship with your confession father. Make him accountable for the sins you commit. Open yourself up to him fully and be open to correction
- The centre of the battle lies in your thoughts. Fight to overcome all thoughts, even those that seem harmless. This will allow you to grow in discipline also.
- Cultivate an attitude of service that is willing and actively seeking opportunities to serve at all times.
- Actively decrease so that God may increase. Do not speak of yourself regardless of whether this is positive or negative.
- Cultivate joy and peace in not only your thoughts, but in those whom you choose to surround yourself with.
- Pray using the Agpia. Prayer that is unguided is likely to fall in the traps of self-obsession.
When we learn to overcome ourselves, this is the greatest joy. We are not the centre of our own lives, Jesus is. I must decrease so that He may increase (John 3:30), and in so doing, our joy is made full.
Sometimes our perception of joy is skewed. Sometimes we chase happiness over joy. For whatever void presents, we fill it with momentary pleasures. While I may see nothing wrong with momentary pleasures and things that make me happy, but it is the underlying basis that causes the greatest harm. True joy stems for union with those around us. If hell is likened to complete separation from those around us, then eternal joy can be likened to unity.
St Macarius the Great was walking in the desert and found a skull lying on the ground. He poked it with his stick and it spoke saying,
“As far as the sky is removed from the earth, so great is the fire beneath us; we are ourselves standing in the midst of the fire, from the feet up to the head. It is not possible to see anyone face to face, but the face of one is fixed to the back of another. Yet when you pray for us, each of us can see the other’s face a little. Such is our respite.”
The greatest glimpse of joy in hell is when a person sees another. To be in hell is to be stuck in one’s self and have no interaction with those around them. To be consumed with one’s ego while on earth is to fall into the same torment that exists below. When the disciples of St John the Baptist came to him and told him all about Christ who was stealing his glory, his response was simple,
“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I mustdecrease.”(John 3:29-30)
To choose a simple life as a friend of the Bridegroom is to live a joyful life. To live life grounded – humus. In humility is the foundation of all virtuous fruits. Love, joy, peace, long-suffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, long suffering – all start with humus.
What were once prayers of despair and worthlessness are overshadowed with something much greater as He makes us whiter than snow.
I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Ps 13:5).For who in the heavens can be compared to the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, And to be held in reverence by all those around Him (Ps 89:6-7).I found the one I love. I held him and would not let him go, (Song of Solomon 3:4). I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me (Song of Solomon 7:10).
Glory be to God forever, Amen.