Wrestling with Being A Christian

Anyone who has taken the spiritual life seriously quickly comes to realize how much harder it is than one imagines to live by the Gospel commands.  Our own hearts and minds become mazes filled with traps, rabbit holes and dead ends for our weary souls sojourning ans struggling to follow Christ.  Not only are there temptations to navigate through, but living according to wisdom (moderation in all things!), and dealing with one’s passions and predilection toward self-preservation make keeping even a straight-forward command to ‘love one another’ a treacherous path.  We easily are side tracked from loving the other, to thinking about how other’s perceive us, being obsessed with what others think about us, doubting whether we are loving enough or  becoming self-absorbed with whether others are even noticing how loving we are trying to be.  St Peter of Damaskos (12th Century) offers us one saint’s lament at just how difficult being a disciple of Christ is.  His plaint is sometimes humorous in its pathetic nature, especially for those who can empathize with his struggle based on personal experience.   And yet in the end, he realizes the simple truth that all of these struggles with doing the simple right thing are in fact the spiritual warfare.  Unless we are faithful in these ‘little’ things, we will never be entrusted by God with the great deeds (Luke 16:10-13) He needs us to accomplish for the world and for its salvation. St Peter writes:

“How many tears would I like to shed whenever I gain even a partial glimpse of myself! If I do not sin, I become elated with pride; while if I sin and am able to realize it, in my dismay I lose heart and begin to despair. If I take refuge in hope, again I become arrogant. If I weep, it feeds my presumption; if I do not weep, the passions visit me again. My life is death, yet death seems even worse because of my fear of punishment. My prayer proves a source of temptation to me, and my inattention a cause of disaster. ‘He that increases knowledge increases sorrow,’ says Solomon (Eccles. 1:18). I am at a loss, beside myself, and do not know what to do. And should I know, and then not do it, my knowledge would contribute to my condemnation. Alas, what shall I choose? In my ignorance all things seem contradictory and I cannot reconcile them. I do not find the virtue and wisdom hidden in my trials, since I do not endure these trials with patience. I flee from stillness because of my evil thoughts, and so I find myself beset by the passions that tempt me through the senses. I want to fast and to keep vigil, but am impeded by presumption and laxity. I eat and sleep lavishly, and sin without knowing it. I withdraw myself from everything and flee out of fear of sin, but listlessness is again my undoing. Yet I realize that many, because they had a firm faith, received crowns of victory after going through battles and trials like these. It was because of their faith that they were granted fear of God; and through this fear they were enabled to practice the other virtues.”  (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 31956-79)