– Father Pavel, if a Christian is single, but they are not going to join a monastery, does it mean from the position of the Church, that they can hardly expect happiness or feel the fullness of life or doesn’t it?
– No, of course, there is no direct connection between family life, the feeling of happiness and the fullness of being. And if there was, then the Lord, would, probably, have said about it in the first place: whoever did not marry, damn them, because they were hopeless. But He did not say that!
Yes, family, of course, should be associated with happiness, with a seedbed for love. But, unfortunately, for a large amount of people who fail to build healthy relationships with their spouses, children or mothers-in-law, family can become torture and poison that contaminates people’s entire lives, causing the deepest mental and spiritual traumas. One can say that there are such people who are contraindicated in starting a family – and that is fine.
We also know the words of the Apostle Paul that it is better for a man not to marry a woman. Why? It is because in the spiritual sense, singlehood opens up immeasurably greater opportunities for a person than when they are burdened with family, children, and the need to take care of them.
The opinion that the meaning of a secular life is found exclusively in family happiness is actually very stereotyped. We force this stereotype, because it is very simple and understandable.
– Why is this simple? You have just said that it is not that easy to achieve happiness in the family.
– As bequeathed to us by Dr. Haass, “the surest way to happiness lies not in the desire to be happy, but in making others happy.” If people do this, they are destined for happiness. You can make others happy while both having a family or not. But you must agree that it is easier with family, because you take care of those who you naturally love and have sympathy for. You are more inclined to help them rather than anyone else.
Not Only Loners Can Waste Their Lives
– “Either marriage or monastery” is this also a stereotype?
— Certainly. The main thing is that a person should turn their attention towards a subject that is outside themselves. Otherwise, there is no difference, whether they live in a monastery, in a family or alone. In any case, they will constantly feel dissatisfied with their life, and will never have a feeling of its fullness. No matter how faithful and pious they may be, in fact they will just burn their life down.
In reality, as soon as we go beyond the scope of this stereotype, it turns out that there is a huge number of quite happy people who are not burdened with family ties and have not left for the monastery.
– Have you met such people?
— There are a lot of them in the teaching environment, for instance. Look at Orthodox universities, iconographic, and regency schools. Who is the backbone there? As a rule, single unmarried women. Certainly not flawed in terms of a possible family life, they still decided to devote their entire selves to educational process, and serving for the good of others. They are well aware of the fact that as soon as they create family ties (this primarily concerns women), they will automatically fall out of the deep involvement in their work. Having a whole service with full dedication significantly reduces the risk of falling into a depressive state of being due to their loneliness.
– You mentioned single teachers, and I immediately remembered how school children sometimes talk about a teacher, “it shows that she has no personal life nor children – she takes her frustration out on us!”
– Indeed, there are such teachers, but school children are wrong when they say so: it’s not at all about being alone. As a rule, human malice is a consequence of deep inner grumble. When we refuse to accept what the Lord is currently giving us and when we think that my idea about what life should be like is sacred and no one should dare to question it, but reality turns out to be different, then bitterness is inevitable. But after all, reality is not in our hands, but in the hands of God! The unwillingness to humble oneself and admit the current situation precisely as a manifestation of the will of God will certainly give rise to anger and grumbling.
But again this is not about being alone. The same thing happens with family people. Here the two got married and after five years they realized that life had gone completely differently than they had once dreamed of. As a consequence, the same situation of dissatisfaction and grumbling occurs.
I Still Have Bouts of Powerlessness
– Father Pavel, not so long ago your spouse died. Could you share your personal experience: when presbytera Olga departed to the Lord, did you grumble or want to give up?
– The main struggle between grumbling and gratitude happened much earlier, during the illness of my wife. She suffered from cancer for many years, and as the time passed it became clearer that our children and I would likely be left without her. It was especially hard at the beginning, when the course of more or less normal life, from a secular point of view, suddenly began to turn around, and I realized that the whole ship would overturn. Well, over time, you understand that nothing can be done about it, and this is, apparently, the will of God.
My wife’s death highlighted priorities in such a different way that I did not want to give up at all. I wanted to do something opposite. For the first time in my life I was fortunate to truly understand by the example of the closest person to me, what a painless, shameless and peaceful death is, and make sure that all our work, actions, and decisions inevitably affect how we depart from earthly life.
Of course, I have experienced bouts of misunderstanding and powerlessness to this day: indeed this is a difficult situation. But everything somehow gets resolved. There were no seriously dramatic situations that push one into a corner and make one cry of despair and thank God. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that we have support that allows us to feel steady. This is a church.
– In what way, in addition to prayer and the Eucharist, of course, the church helps to feel steady?
– I think that a question of our reader (“Does God need single people?”), mentions alternative ways to “forget oneself” that would seem strange to any parishioner of a particular church. Because at any parish there are always those who are waiting for help. So I believe that a crucial task of a priest is to build relationships between parishioners in such a way that those who need help and those who can provide it can find each other.
This is not only about financial and household support. After all, the parish is filled with completely different people with different education, professions, and hobbies. Actually, it is very interesting, because it gives them an opportunity to share their experiences with one another. This is what my parishioners do, for example. It all started when two students of the Russian State University of Cinematography came to our church and I offered them to make animated cartoons with children. They were fascinated by this activity. At first there were drawn cartoons, where the children were directors, artists, animators, cameramen, and actors. Now they have begun to do plasticine animation. Then, a specialist in artistic calligraphy became our parishioner. This immediately attracted adults. Next, we opened classes in watercolor drawing, pottery, carpentry, and home economics, where women study all kinds of sewing, knitting, and so on. Later, we opened courses in ethnographic weaving craft, where people study the ancient techniques of knitting and dyeing fabrics with natural plants, etc. This doesn’t mean, of course, some kind of super-professional or even pre-professional level. No, all of this is done at the level of proper hobbies, which don’t imply primary specialized education, even though our teachers are very good professionals.
What was all this done for? It was done precisely to ensure that people who want to fill their lives with meaningful activities, could actually do it. As practice shows, when people have enthusiasm, quality of their life changes significantly, because they start setting goals, and foundations for , higher self-esteem appear. Thus, it is easier for them to get out of the state of self-pity, depression, despondency, and get rid of the feeling of being useless and obsessive about being a loser in life.
I believe this is a truly correct Christian attitude towards life: when a person realizes that the world does not revolve around them alone, but they themselves should try to execute God’s certain plan for them, which becomes obvious to them at this moment.
–However, this is the most difficult part: the plan is very rarely obvious. How can we recognize it?
– It is important to understand that God is not an authoritarian dictator, Who is trying to impose His idée fixe on those who themselves believers in Him. First and foremost, God is a wise teacher and a kind parent. A kind one! The difference between a good parent and a bad one is that the first never imposes anything on their child, but very carefully and delicately keeps track of what direction their child is developing, what interests their child, what bad tendencies, weaknesses, and vices are formed, and decides what to do next: how to help, rather than how to punish. In the same way, only to an incomparably greater degree, the Lord treats us. He constantly, every day, every second offers us different options, looks at what we choose, and depending on our choice, He builds our further lifeline.
Seeking the will of God is not a passive, but always a very active position. It doesn’t at all include “going off the rails” and trying everything, expecting that at some point the Lord will give a sign. The active position is above all about becoming a transparent and accessible person for actions of the grace of God.
Actually, the question of how to find the will of God is revealed very simply. Firstly, the will of God is in the commandments that are given to us.
Secondly, what God is giving to us at the moment is also the will of God, His plan for us. The search and acceptance of the will of God starts with a grateful and uncomplaining acceptance of the situation in which a person is, without trying to understand how they sinned, what they are “punished for”, and so on. A person simply agrees: yes, now I have no family, there is a high probability that I will never have it, and I simply accept it as a call from God to fulfill the Gospel precisely in such conditions.
In addition, just as children turn to mom or dad and express their wishes about what they would like to get and what they would like to do, we turn to God as His children to express our wishes. At the same time we realize: only one Lord knows what is the most important, useful and salvific for us. Who, needless to say, takes into account our wishes, but still knows us much deeper than we ourselves. I have no doubt that after a while, one way or another, a person will receive an answer from God.
Translated by pravmir.com