It is often the strong and the powerful who are the furthest from the Lord. If we think about it, it kind of makes sense. People who have everything are not in touch with their need for God. Their lives are filled with enjoyment and ease, and instead of pondering the meaning of life, such people are often focused more on fulfilling passing impulses. This may a little bit of a caricature, but it is one that seems to be played out generation after generation.
In our success and the prosperity it brings, we often spend our leisure trying to avoid suffering and the Cross. We do not want to face the darker sides of ourselves, and we certainly do not want to undergo uncomfortable purgations of heart which await those who seek perfection. Although we recognize the value of pain and sacrifice when it comes to athletics or even our professional careers, we often are hypocrites in that we think the spiritual life should be all sugar and sweet.
In the Philokalia, a collection of wisdom from the Christian East, St. Mark the Ascetic writes:
There is a breaking of the heart which is gentle and makes it deeply penitent, and there is a breaking which is violent and harmful, shattering it completely
The distinction that St. Mark is getting at is that there are moments in which we experience our sinfulness and our weakness in ways that lead us to greater intimacy with Jesus Christ. He distinguishes this from the despair that sometimes plagues those who struggle because one leads to Christ and the other does not. He explains that the former are moments of self-knowledge which are a working of the Holy Spirit. Instead of leading us to give up, they serve to teach us our complete dependence on God. Often, success and praise serves to boost our egos. Instead of thinking humbly of ourselves, we tend to attribute our advances to our own limited abilities rather than recognizing that every good work we do is really the result of responding to God’s grace.
God’s activity is always primary, though in a mysterious and hidden way.
Due to this, when our hearts are broken and brought low, we learn to rely less on ourselves and more on the Holy Spirit. Such humility allows us to make room for the Spirit, and in this way we learn to let God work within us. In such a person, pride is far from their mind; not because they do not see the great works that are being done, but because they understand their true origin.
This should inspire us to embrace the Cross. Through allowing ourselves to purged and suffer the important work of sanctification, we grow and become the saints that God intends. We learn to embrace the pain of self-knowledge and the suffering it causes because in this we soon discover the medicine for our selfishness and egocentricity.
I remember the moment when a priest told me that Christ was drawing me closer through my suffering. It was hard and confusing to hear that. I just wanted him to give me pity and compassion, but he was right. His words rattled around my head for a while as the Spirit open my eyes and my heart step by step to this Truth. I imagine it is difficult for our spiritual shepherds to speak truth when it would be better received if you simply told us what we want to hear. Thank God for those who do the hard work of directing our souls along this journey.