31 August 2008

Don't enjoy yourself -- Wisdom Sunday

It is said that only a few find the narrow way that leads to life and we must strive to enter by the narrow door. For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able (Luke 13:24). The explaination is to be found precisely in our unwillingness to persecute ourselves. We overcome after a fashion, perhaps, our serious and dangerous vices, but there it stops. The small desires we freely let grow as they will. We neither embezzle nor steal, but delight in gossiping; we do not "drink," but consume immoderate quantities of tea and coffee instead. The heart remains quite full of appetites: the roots are not pulled out and we wander around in the tanglewoods that have sprung up in the soil of our self-pity. Make an onslaught on your self-pity, for it is the root of all ill that befalls you. If you were not full of self-pity you would soon observe that we ourselves are to blame for all this evil, because we refuse to understand that it is in reality a good thing. Sympathy for yourself obscures your sight. You are compassionate only for yourself and as a result your horizon closes in. Your love is bound up with yourself. Set it free and evil departs from you. Suppress you ruinous weakness and your craving for comfort: attack them from every side! Crush your desire for enjoyment: do not give it air to breathe. Be strict with yourself; do not grant your carnal ego the bribes it is impatiently demanding. For everything gains strength from repetition, but dies if it is not given nourishment. But take care not to bar the front entrance to evil and at the same time leave the back door ajar, through which it can cleaverly slip in another form. How do you benefit if, for example, you begin to sleep on a hard mattress but instead indulge in warm baths? But if you try to give up smoking but give free reign to your urge to prattle? O if you deny your urge to prattle, but read exciting novels? Or if you stop reading novels but let loose your imagination and quiver in sweet melancholy? All these are only different forms of the same thing: your insatiable craving to satisfy your own need for enjoyment. You must set about rooting out the very desire to have things pleasant, to get on well, to be contented. You must learn to like sadness, poverty, pain, hardship. You must learn to follow privately the Lord's bidding: not to speak empty words, not to adorn yourself, always to obey authority, not to look at a woman with desire, not to be angry and much else. For all these biddings are given us not in order for us to act as if they did not exist, but for us to follow: otherwise the Lord of mercy would not have burdened us with them. If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, He said (Matthew 16:24), thereby leaving it to each person's own will --- if any man will --- and to each person's endeavour: let him deny himself. -- from The Way of the Ascetic by Tito Colliander

Seems a bitter pill, doesn't it? No enjoyment whatsoever? But think about our enjoyments. On occasion, when we are deprived of our enjoyments we act as if we have been denied a civil right. When we see that happen we ought to know that our enjoyments have become addictions of a sort.

If we would enjoy ourselves, and simply be thankful on those occasions when we can, but also thankful when we can't if we will be content with food, clothing and shelter then enjoyments will be simple pleasures, not addictions.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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