When All Becomes Too Easy
There are many places in the world where the fear of not being able to make ends meet, leaving your family without food, shelter, and other means of subsistence, or the fear of a ravaging war, is intensely present. With the golden era of prosperity, in the Western world at least, these great survival fears have almost disappeared, morphing into new and shallow anxieties: not being able to land the most fulfilling job fresh out of college, missing the right kind of organic almond milk at the closest health food store, or, heaven forbid, not sporting a car aligned with one’s social status.
When placed in the euphoric mist of comfort, one has the tendency to lose focus and concentrate on things that don’t really matter. Without a motivating purpose, even a great athlete becomes a couch potato, gaining weight and losing strength.
In the Book of Judges, we read the story of Samson who, lured in the pleasuring arms of Delilah, reveals the secret of his strength and loses his life to his enemies. David the King, blinded by power, wealth, and desire, falls into murder, coveting his friend’s wife. King Herod beheads St. John the Baptist in exchange for a lascivious dance, putting a drunkard’s promise higher then the life of a prophet.
An experiment has been done with two young trees. One is planted outside and one inside a glass house. The tree outside was subject to wind, rain, and all the elements. The one inside was sheltered and not a leaf was damaged from its branches by wind or rain. After a while, the experimenters took the protected tree outside, and they were proud of it: it looked strong and healthy. Then a storm came and started blowing powerfully. The humble outside tree bent to the ground, as it did many times before, but then came back up unharmed. The inside tree, however, with a trunk unused to the hardships of the real world, snapped in two, bringing its pampered life to a tragic end.
Everyone wants a life without suffering and pain, with everything aligning to our every wish, but is this really helpful to us? If God would give us everything we’re asking, and protect us from all harm, would we be inclined to do more for God through our fellow men? Would we be more motivated to better ourselves every day? Would this keep us on the path of salvation?
If we look at the direction that our prosperity culture is leading, we see an increased focus on materialism and a lack of inner spirituality. The more external stuff we have, the less we are prone to concentrate on the needs of the internal man. This leads to an atrophy and numbness of the soul that stops being moved even by other people’s sufferings. We see terrible news on TV, and, unable to bear the weight of what we see, we switch to the happy channel. It is not our problem; we are fine, thank God for our good life!
This is why the spiritual path proposed by the Christian faith, as we the Orthodox understand it, is not an appealing proposition for many, certainly not for the indulged. Our narrow path leads the believer to incredible heights, but it also takes him or her through many tribulations. It goes through many seasons of fasting, painstakingly long services, vigils, resisting temptation, accepting our faults in Confession, taking responsibility for our families, sharing our treasure with the poor, humbling ourselves, and, most importantly, trying to love everyone, including those who hate us.
All these things are overwhelming and many times can bring one to the brink of despair. But it is exactly there that we meet God and experience His power. God said to the Holy Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) We struggle to stay on the straight and narrow, but it is God Who actually fulfills our efforts with His grace through the Holy Spirit.
The comfort of this world is not the purpose; yet, the suffering is not the purpose either. Even the exercises of the spiritual life are not the end, but only means to an end. The purpose is only in God. The only mode of existence of humankind is in the presence of God. Only in His loving presence do we truly exist. The comfort of this life can make us forget this; lost in the indulgences of creation, we forget the Creator. The tribulations of the spiritual life, on the other hand, have the purpose of awakening the soul and building an acute mindfulness of God’s presence in our lives. When we renounce food during Lent, God rises as the Feeder of the hungry; in the pious prayer, God emerges as the Bestower of mercy; in fighting temptations, God reveals Himself as the Conqueror of evil. As we advance on the ladder of virtues, God is more and more present in our lives and becomes the focus of our existence. This is what the saints did; this is what we should all do; perfection is a universal call.
There is, however, no victory without a fight; there is no reward without a struggle. We contest, and God rewards us plentifully; we suffer and labor now, but in the end, we will find peace in Him. “Come to me,” He says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Not the rest and comfort of a transitory prosperity, but the eternal peace and delight of the Kingdom, in the presence of God.
Christ did all of these first. He gave up His glory and in His great humility became One of us so we can become like Him. He suffered through His passions, and, although we rejected Him, He called us to be His family. We have to accept His call, take up our crosses, and follow Him into His suffering and even into death, so that also through Him, we will enter into life. Amin.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.