Let’s not lose the respite we find in living in virtue’ (Abba Dorotheos)
People feel weary with their life. Children at school have to study and follow a tiring schedule which doesn’t leave them much free time; people who have to earn a living feel as if they’re working for crumbs to put on the table and that their jobs take a heavy toll on them; those who have families, particularly women, are hampered with a double burden, with working and running the household (although many men try to help in the home). We’re encumbered with heavy loads which exhaust us bodily, while on top of this we have virtual reality which drains our time, actually bringing us more fatigue rather than relaxation.
Bodily tiredness is accompanied by that of the spirit. Our struggle to satisfy our desires, which appear to us as necessities, and this is the result of a life following the paths of a culture that wants us to want, turning dissatisfaction into melancholy, yet another burden. And even when we get what we want, the emptiness of it all is draining, because our desires have nothing to do with what we call the meaning of life which embraces our existence. The same is true of our relationships, which have no stability but are in a state of flux; they distress us because we don’t have a particular person as a point of reference. Even a stable relationship is tiring because routine and excessive emphasis on aspects of the character of the other person undermine love. The ego is wounded, or doesn’t feel secure, or is wearied by the shortcomings of the other person. In any case, we don’t look inside ourselves. Our priority is to criticize others.
The ascetic tradition tells us about the contentment we find when we live in virtue. Love brings us heart’s ease, because it soothes the conscience. Goodness doesn’t allow people to be alone. Bringing peace gives joy. When we seek the truth, we find rest, because we have comfort in our trials. When we forgive, we find rest, spiritually, because our life is oriented towards Christ and he doesn’t abandon us.
The same is true when we follow the way of life demanded from us by our faith in our everyday dealings. Fasting isn’t tiring, but something beautiful, since it enables us to detoxify our bodies and to combine a withdrawal from the priority of eating with greater concern for the things of God. When prayer isn’t restricted to a sense of formality, but has more to do with our thirst to speak to God, it relieves us of our burdens. When we study the word of God, the lives of the saints, the teaching of the fathers and of all those who struggle to learn the truth, all this relieves our tired mind and troubled heart. Our liturgical life brings us into contact with God and our neighbors and gives us exquisite joy.
The ascetic life of the Church allows us to see our relations with others, and also the work we do, in a different light. When the sense of gratitude reigns- that is ‘Glory to God’- we have a better appreciation of the other people in our life and we realize that our work is a means of survival, not an end in itself. So we can set ourselves boundaries and not be overcome by stress and by passing judgment on others.
So let’s try and discover what it is that really brings us rest.