“We must not despair when we struggle and continuously see nothing but the slightest progress. We all do nearly nothing — some a little more, some a little less. When Christ sees our little effort, He gives us an analogous token; and so our “nearly nothing” becomes valuable, and we can see a little progress. For this reason we must not despair, but hope in God. — Elder Paisios
I once heard it said that God never asked us to be successful, only faithful. That is one of those pithy little sayings that we like to nod our head to in agreement, but when we actually sit down and think about that statement, it can be a real challenge to give assent to. Most of us want some reward for our efforts. When I pray, I have in mind some expectation that the prayer I have prayed will be answered (as I imagine it should be). When I fast, I have an expectation that the fasting I have done will lead to some spiritual depth, a new and renewed ascetic discipline. Without verbalizing it, often when I give to someone in need, I have, at least in the dark recesses of my mind, some expectation that my own needs will be met. And when, as often is the case, nothing happens, I am tempted to despair.
Despair is a plague. It is a thing that can permeate every part of our life and our community if it is allowed to. And it is usually born out of the fact that my expectations have not been met. I made some sacrifice (usually quite small) and I expect some great reward from God in return. When it doesn’t happen yell out that this isn’t fair and despair begins to set in.
Elder Paisios offers us, in the quote above, a little correction to our expectations. He is correct when he says that most of us do nearly nothing. It is Christ who has done everything for us already. And He calls to us, asking us to give up our pettiness, our anger, our self-centeredness in exchange for Truth, Life, and Love. Despair is the enemy of all of these virtues. Even when we feel we have “nearly nothing,” that nearly nothing is more valuable because it is from Christ. Cling to it. Build upon it. Give thanks for it. It will blossom into true faith and ultimately into joy.