The more we read holy scripture and by the grace of God hear His Word, the more likely we are to be confronted by the contradiction in respect to our lives and our great shortfall in respect to fulfilling God’s Will.
One such confronting passage written by St Paul to the Phillipians is as follows:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 4:6-7)
As a young student of Psychology I remember hearing anxiety described as an experience that was integral and inseparable to life. Anxiety has much to do with our self preservation and security in a world which appears to be unpredictable and uncertain. Be it issues of finance or our physical, social and psychological well being we are anxious over most things in our life. Is it that we are pursuing a career, have a family and children to care for or are caring for our sick and elderly, we will experience anxiety because our lives are exposed to uncertainty and change.
We also experience anxiety because life presents us with continuous competing and conflicting interests. If we respond appropriately however to this anxiety and with faith turn to God and by putting our trust and hope in Him, then we will see that all things are possible and provided through Him. For this is the power of faith through which we cease to expect the fulfilment of our own self-preservation and security that is founded on false hope and promise through our own will and is replaced with the longing to fulfil the Will of God. Fulfilling the Will of God offers the promise of eternal salvation which exposes the futility of our anxiety which is centred on our temporal self-preservation which is in fact a contradiction in terms. Fulfilling the Will of God promises us consistency and purpose in our lives which replaces our inconsistent nature that is immersed in worldly anxiety.
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on” said Our Lord, “But seek the kingdom of God, and all things shall be added to you.” (Luke 12:22 & 31)
We experience anxiety because we scatter and disperse our attention and thoughts away from God and on to material things. Our true purpose which is to serve and glorify God is therefore overshadowed. Our drive for self-preservation and importance causes us to become pre-occupied with vain and unprofitable activity that is wasteful of the little precious time available to us. Jesus taught “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)
A LILY AMONG THORNS
St Neilos the Ascetic (5th Century, Philokalia pp. 244) said this to say about anxiety: “Detachment is the mark of a perfect soul, whereas it is characteristic of an imperfect soul to be worn down with anxiety about material things. The perfect soul is called a ‘lily among thorns’ meaning that it lives with detachment in the midst of those who are troubled by such anxiety. For in the Gospel the lily signifies the soul that is detached from wordily care: ‘They do not toil or spin… yet even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them’ (Matthew 6:28-29). But of those who devote much anxious thought to bodily things, it is said: ‘All the life of the ungodly is spent in anxiety’ (Job 15:20)” “It is indeed ungodly” says St Neilos “to pass one’s whole life worrying about bodily things and to give no thought to the blessings of the age to come…” The Apostle Peter reminds us “To be watchful in prayer… casting all our care upon God, since He cares for you” (1 Peter 4:7, 5:7).
St John of Karpathos (7th Century, Philokalia Vol 1. pp. 308) refers to the following saying of a spiritual Father “Entrust yourself to the Lord, and all will be entrusted to you.”
FREEDOM FROM ALL ANXIETY
St Symeon the New Theologian (10th Century, Philokalia Vol 4. pp. 73) recommended the following be pursued by monks which is relevant also for our spiritual health today. “Above all” he writes “strive to acquire three things… The first is freedom from anxiety with respect to everything, whether reasonable or senseless – in other words, you should be dead to everything. Secondly, you should strive to preserve a pure conscience, so that is has nothing to reproach you with. Thirdly, you should be completely detached, so that your thoughts incline towards nothing worldly, not even your own body.
St Gregory Palamas (14th Century) recognised that the shedding of possessions “gave birth to freedom of anxiety” and caused a person “to turn inwardly” to allow “self scrutiny, free from all external attachments.” Such spiritual discipline and detachment from the world allowed the Saints to be freed from worldly induced anxieties. “You will learn the Truth said Our Lord, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)
If we examine our lives carefully we will realise that we fall way short of fulfilling God’s will. Our anxieties are a barometer of our spiritual health. We are immersed in worldly anxieties which clearly exposes our little faith and our spiritually depleted disposition.
Fr Emmanuel Stamatiou