I don’t watch TV. Well, I will watch a ballgame sometimes but, other than that, I try to stay away from TV. That means I don’t watch the news. I think it has become obvious to anyone paying attention, especially over the last few years, that our news outlets are either outright lying to us or, at very least, not telling us the whole story.
I do, however, pay attention to several independent journalists. You know, the ones that are on the ground in the places from which they are reporting, not sitting in some studio wearing makeup. I was listening to one the other day talking about corruption and such within our government and I heard something that resonated with truth.
“Convenience is the carrot.”
Now, she was not talking about spiritual things; she was talking about other things. But man, there is so much truth in this when it comes to our spiritual life as well. What is it that keeps us from living the life Christ has called us to? What is it that keeps us from taking up our cross and following the Lord Jesus, no matter the cost?
“Convenience is the carrot.”
We do not do what Holy Scripture demands of us because it’s inconvenient. We do not do what Holy Tradition demands of us because it’s inconvenient.
We are slaves to our convenience.
Not too long ago, I visited a monastery in West Virginia and spent the weekend there. I have longed to spend time at a monastery for some time, but the past two years have made that rather difficult. I have always been attracted to the monastic way of life and ethos. I was not disappointed. The weekend was wonderful.
The entire weekend was spent away from all the conveniences of my life in the world. My cell phone would not work (what a lovely thing!), there were no TVs anywhere to be seen, no music blaring, no sound of traffic, no social media. There were hours of prayer and silence. The monks chanting, the candles burning, reverencing the holy icons, being soaked in incense…it was soul-filling, peaceful and challenging.
Saturday night at the monastery was spent standing in the Vigil service for over three hours. Yes, you read that correctly. We stood and prayed and gave confession and received absolution and prayed some more for three hours. And it was glorious.
There was no convenience to be had. It was hard work but also highly rewarding. The carrot for me that weekend was a deeper life of prayer and union with Christ.
I have spoken a lot about this but the sooner we divorce ourselves from the convenience of this world, the better off our souls will be. I’ll give you an example. What do we do on Saturday evenings? Most of us will spend Saturday evenings immersing ourselves in whatever entertainment venue we choose. Could be family movie night, could be a card game, going out to eat, drinking, whatever.
The point is that rarely do we spend Saturday night in silence. Rarely, if ever, do we spend Saturday night in prayer or reading Holy Scripture or some piece of spiritual writing, in preparation for worship on Sunday. No, we spend our time indulging in our pleasures.
St. John Chrysostom (Homily 13 on 1 Timothy) has this to say about those who live in pleasure,
“A man who lives in pleasure, is dead while he lives. For he lives only to his belly. In his other senses he lives not. He sees not what he ought to see, he hears not what he ought to hear, he speaks not what he ought to speak. Nor does he perform the actions of the living. But as he who is stretched upon a bed, with his eyes closed, and his eyelids fast, perceives nothing that is passing; so it is with this man, or rather not so, but worse. For the one is equally insensible to things good and evil, but the latter is sensible to things evil only, but as insensible as the former to things good. Thus he is dead. For nothing relating to the life to come moves or affects him.”
Read that again. A man (or woman) who lives in pleasure is dead. He lives only to satisfy his appetites. He cannot see or hear what’s really going on and he cannot speak as he ought. St. John says, if this is how we live our lives, we’re as good as stretched out on a bed, passed out and blind to the world around us. Nothing related to the life to come moves or affects us.
This is us, dear reader. We are the dead ones. We spend our time in useless and trivial pursuits, satisfying our appetites for entertainment and our belly, our lusts and our conveniences. And we are largely dead to the things of the life to come.
One of our biggest problems is that we don’t really believe that there is such a thing as eternity. Our minds can’t grasp it and so we don’t truly believe it. Or, what we’ve been told about eternity is this nebulous notion of “heaven” in which we’ll all sit around and live this disembodied and ethereal life and float around. No, friends. We are flesh and we will be in the life to come. Albeit, redeemed and made new, born again into true humanity as it was in the beginning. And that life will last forever.
C.S. Lewis talked about this truth when he said,
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Our desires are too weak. We are half-hearted, seeking the carrot of convenience and our ease when infinite joy and communion with our God is offered to us. We are far too easily pleased and placated. Our souls will pay the price.
When we are tempted, brothers and sisters, to pursue the things of the world, to compromise, to be distracted, to be lulled to sleep by our appetites, we must never forget: Convenience is the carrot the devil offers us. It is far too inconvenient for us to pick up our cross and follow Christ. But if we do not, our souls and the souls of our children will pay the price.
Recently, I have heard several people say this and read it a good bit in some on-line articles. I don’t really watch television much but what tiny bit I do, I have heard this or something very similar on several occasions. It is a little saying that lots of people say but really, it’s an underlying life philosophy. Here it is:
I need to learn to love myself.
Or some variation of this. Learn to love yourself or something along those lines.
I have some problems with this idea. If you are a Christian, you should have some issues with it as well. Let’s talk, first, about our society for a sec. We live in a self-obsessed society. I’m almost 50 years old and I cannot remember a time in my life that this has become so obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a recent phenomenon. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, giving in to an inflated sense of their own power and dreams of grandeur (“ye shall be as gods”), this has been part of the human condition. People loving them some themselves is obvious and rampant throughout Holy Scripture and world history.
At the root of this notion of self-love is really pure selfishness. I think we can all see from even a cursory browsing of most news outlets or social media..heck, even a walk through a local mall, that self-love is rampant these days.
I want to take a quick second and tell you that there is a difference between thinking you’re a piece of crap and self-loathing and humility. Of course, we are to be humble. But humility is not thinking that you are worthless. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who defined humility as not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.
St. Paul is helpful for us as we consider humility. Philippians 2:3-8 tells us,
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”(emphasis mine)
St. Paul tells us that we are to have a lowliness of mind and that we are to follow the example of our Lord Jesus who humbled Himself and became obedient. St. Paul ties obedience and humility to each other. We’re going to come back to that later. St. Paul further reminds us in Romans 12:3 that a man is to “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly..” We are to examine our hearts and souls and actions and compare it to the standard.
Icontinually hear people say, “I’m a good person.” My response to that is always, “Good according to whom or by what standard?”
And what standard are we to judge ourselves by? Did Christ have anything to say about being good? As a matter of fact, He did. In Luke 18:19, we read this,
“And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.” This was in response to a man asking Jesus a question and calling Him, “good teacher.” So, when we say that we’re a good person, perhaps we need to check our standard. Only One is good, our Lord tells us…and it ain’t you or me.
I think before we dare to call ourselves good, we need to take a really hard and honest look at ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am a very great sinner. The thoughts that come from my heart and mind are many times so vile that I am shocked. I shouldn’t be but I sometimes am. As Jesus reminds us, we are defiled by what comes from within us (Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:15). Why would we love ourselves when what comes from inside us is so vile and filthy and wretched? The prophet Isaiah tells us,
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” (Is. 64:6-8)
Love ourselves? Our righteousness is as filthy rags. Our iniquities have taken us away. We are merely the clay; He is the potter. We are entirely in His hands.
Rather than “loving ourselves,” we should rather take a sober assessment of ourselves and the condition of our soul and heart. St. Maximos the Confessor wrote quite a bit about self-love. He said it was rooted in selfishness and pride and was the “mother of all passions.” By the way, passions are a bad thing.
So, how do we have a proper view of ourselves and not fall into “the mother of all passions?” I want to go back to something really quick for that answer. Remember what St. Paul talks about in Philippians and the mind of Christ. What did he tie together?
Humility and obedience.
I think obedience is one of the major keys to a proper opinion of oneself and humility. After all, our Lord Jesus Himself was obedient, as St. Paul reminds us, even to the point of death. Christ Himself said He came not to do His own will but the will of the Father (John 4:34, 5:30 and 6:38). And Christ gave us commands that we are to follow. After all, our life is not our own just to be lived for our enjoyment (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Rather, as the Psalmist reminds us in Ps. 143:10, we are to cry, “Teach me to do Thy will.”
Christ said hard things that don’t sound like we’re supposed to “love ourselves.” He said things like, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” and “He who loves his father or mother, or son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” and “He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom.”
None of that sounds like, “love yourself.” That sounds like, “Give yourself away. Recognize who you really are and how dark your heart is without me.”
As Father Seraphim Rose (+1982) said,
“Carry your cross without complaint. Don’t think you are anything special. Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are.”
Pray for me, brothers and sisters. Pray for yourself and each other.