“I do not feel good.”

November 13, 2007

I feel spiritually dead, the more I try to be a good person the more I fail, I just keep getting worse. I used to pray a lot but I can not even bring myself to do that anymore, I have asked God to make me a stronger person, to take up my burden, to do anything that would help me and I feel like my prayers have gone unanswered. I hate myself and am loosing hope. I am sorry for sounding so whiny but I really do not know what else to do.

Here’s a message someone had sent out, and I couldn’t help but try to reply to encourage and motivate him. Thinking back to times when I had felt just like this, and bearing in mind the jewels of wisdom from Saint Isaac the Syrian, I replied:

“His path has been trodden from the ages and from all generations by the cross and by death. How is it with you, that the afflictions on the path seem to you to be off the path? Do you not wish to follow the steps of the saints? Or have you plans for devising some way of your own, and of journeying therein without suffering.”

“The path of God is a daily cross. No one has ascended into Heaven by means of ease, for we know where the way of ease leads and how it ends.”

“In truth, without afflictions there is no life.”

“Know with certainty, therefore, that to stand is not within your power, nor does it pertain to your virtue, but it belongs to grace herself which carries you upon the palm of her hand, that you may not be alarmed.”

— St. Isaac the Syrian

“Friend, I know exactly how you feel. Divine services hardly take root because the heart feels like a slab of wood. You can hardly seem to pray because it seems like they don’t even escape the ceiling, and you’re speaking only to a silent room, even as your thoughts are running around in your head from lack of interest.

Thank God for this. With every hard temptation and struggle is a chance to become victorious in Christ the Lord.

You may not want to pray, but do it anyway. Prayer is askesis, exercise, and an infant isn’t born bench pressing 200 pounds. Through time and effort muscles develop and grow, through common labor they’re strengthened, through continued use they’re made strong. Prayer is the life of your soul, and until this spiritual exercise is stronger in you your spirituality is fleeting and scattered. This, coming from a man who can’t muster a single tear for his sins and loves life more than God. I condemn myself here, too, but I do know that the Fathers knew spirituality, and I wouldn’t lead you astray if I spoke boldly of what they’ve passed down to us who are unworthy.

“Prayer offered up at night possesses a great power, more so than the prayer of the day-time. Therefore all the righteous prayed during the night, while combating the heaviness of the body and the sweetness of sleep and repelling bodily nature.” — Saint Isaac the Syrian

See, there is power in vigilant prayer because they’re done while denying the self. How easy it is for us to mumble our evening prayers from the comfort of our beds and pillows. Where does great prayer come from? Labor and fasting. Fasting is the crown of all virtues. It’s a mental struggle for you to pray, but for the sake of God, do it that much more fervently, even if you don’t want to. This is strengthening you. Don’t mumble along, be attentive to what you’re praying, and offer to the Lord your presence of mind and spirit with the tiredness of your body and the hunger of your stomach. This is the way of the ascetics.

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on ‘R’ and grant him all that profits his soul. May my weak and scattered prayers tonight be counted acceptable among theirs.

Ever the sinner, your friend in understanding,

Isaac

Don’t be dead inside. Die to the world, and die to yourself.”

This will be a good reminder for when times like that visit me again. It’s something, how barrenness of soul leads to good things, should we learn from it. Seeing the opportunity for spiritual growth in every circumstance is a gift we should all hope, strive, and pray for. How do we grow in patience without patience wearing thin? How do we understand long-suffering until we’ve triggered our anger? How can we appreciate light without darkness, or silence without the monotonous hustle and bustle? How do we expect to be vigilant without bearing in mind that the strongest steel comes from the hottest flame?

Anger, pain, frustration, noise, disappointments, letdowns, and other such things are golden opportunities to be victorious. It’s not enough to be thankful only when the harvest is plentiful, it’s not enough to love only those who love you, it’s not enough to forgive only those who humble themselves first and admit their faults — what’s the glory in that? Bare minimums are abominable. Struggle.

Then, your vision is refined, your faith is strengthened, and your vigilance is powerful, not simply because of your feeble stirrings, but the grace of God that you have opened your heart and soul to through them.

Glory to God in all things.

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