St Seraphim: Take Heart!

“It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to feel broken, alone, empty and depressed. Not that these are good things, certainly not. But are they are part of normal human experience in our abnormally broken world. Sometimes we feel that there is an unwritten rule in our Christian communities that we have to be happy all the time. That it is a sign of true faith or piety if our experience is that of joy and peace and nothing else.

Our ascetic tradition tells us something different. I heard an interview with a monk who stated that the spiritual life is probably at most 10% peace…the other 90% percent being struggle.
Today many of us have the tendency to beat ourselves up for being caught in the struggle. We condemn ourselves for our negative feelings as though we can just “feel good” all the time. We have inherited logismoi (thoughts) from our culture that tells us we are insufficient or abnormal when we experience pain, hurt and sadness.

Christ calls us to a more radical freedom. Our Divine Physician does not deal with illusions and non-realities. Brokenness is often the exact place where Christ wants to meet us. Many times we read stories of great monastic elders who found grace through intense struggle with demons. I’ve read on more than one occasion of a monk who standing up and throwing punches at the demons for continually interrupting his prayer! Well perhaps our struggle is not quite that intense. But we’ve probably all had moments of wanting to throw a punch at our short tempter, our chronic lust, our tenacious depression…

The point is that struggle is normal.

During this season of Christ’s Resurrection we constantly sing “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death”. How was this great victory achieved? By death. Sit for a moment with the mystery…with the paradox. Victory in death? Indeed.
From the moment of His birth Christ is entering deeper and deeper into the brokenness of the human condition. Healing the sick, advocating for the poor, calling us out on the secret sins of the heart. In Gethsemane Christ even enters into the fear of death, so that we might be freed from it – according to St Maximus the Confessor. And finally Christ confronts death, the climax of our broken state. And by entering into death He fills it with Himself, the Divine Presence. He fills darkness with light because He is the Light. He fills death with life because He is Life. Christ takes alienation from God and fills it with Love unshakable.

Life is very hard. We experience loss in the death of loved ones, ruptured friendships, and heartbreak. We are disappointed with our relationships, our church, our country, and especially ourselves at times. Maybe we react with addiction, or anger, with blaming or jealousy…maybe we just shut down and find ways to hide our hearts from a world too cruel to cope with.

Christ never says these things don’t happen. He never promises a life without struggle. What He does invite us into is a relationship of trusting His care for us. Of entering into His great victory. Being broken is part of the journey and part of the struggle. One day at a time, we work to bring our brokenness to Christ. It can be a place of meeting with Him. No place, is beyond His touch. Know that Christ sees you and loves you and is near to your pain. It’s okay to hurt, it’s okay to feel broken. Christ works with just such things. They are in fact, great tools for learning holiness, love and compassion. In all places, times and circumstances, remember God Who is indeed very near to you.

Keep heart.”

– St. Seraphim

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