Listen to this quote from St. Peter of Damaskos: “Patient endurance kills the despair that kills the soul; it teaches the soul to take comfort and not to grow listless in the face of its many battles and afflictions.” Wow, “the despair that kills the soul.” How often have I seen that in the people who have come to me so despondent as to say “what’s the use.” No wonder the fathers declare that despondency is a sin!
And I can hear them now “Oh, great, even my depression is a sin!” But you have to remember (and this seems so hard to remember in this day and age) “sin” from an Orthodox Christian point of view isn’t the breaking of a rule that makes God mad at you, but a wounding that draws God’s loving healing toward you if only you’ll let it! But how do we break the power of despondency over our lives?
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 4:13-18:
BRETHREN, having the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
St. Paul is suffering all kinds of persecutions for his ministry among the Gentiles to bring them to Faith in Christ. The stories of his tribulations would be enough to make anyone wonder why would someone who was at the top of his community, respected as a religious scholar, and had a bright future ahead of him, throw all that away to preach and convert gentiles to Christianity, an illegal religion that said a Jewish carpenter turned itinerant rabbi, crucified by the Roman State, and humiliated in front of his own mother, was actually the Son of God and risen from the dead!
What might have made a strong man give up in defeat, St. Paul says are nothing more than “slight momentary” afflictions. So, what did Paul know that we might miss when we give in to despondency?
Well, St. Paul knew he believed! My best friend just to tell me that “believers believe! That’s just what believers do.” Paul believed with all his heart that God was going to finish the task of bringing him into His presence forever! Paul had his eye, not on the storm around him, but on the goal ahead of him! Imagine how your attitude would change if you took your eyes off the momentary troubles to the goal of your life: to be God’s companion forever. I guess the first step is to ask is that your goal, or have you set the bar too low? If you have, then you are an easy prey for despondency!
St. Paul also knew that what he and others saw now in his life wasn’t the whole story. Some looked at Paul’s life and shook their heads saying “What a waste. He threw his life away.” But Paul knew that wasn’t true. He knew that his present difficulties weren’t “worthy to be compared” to what awaited him. And far from this being just a “pie in the sky” delusion, Paul’s hope for the future made his present life better. It made his troubles bearable. It made his heart rejoice! Because St. Paul knew God wasn’t going to waste one tear, one hardship, or one painful moment. No, every time things looked dark, St. Paul knew the light would one day win the day!
With that kind of hope, despondency doesn’t stand a chance. It’s when despondency rules my heart that I have no energy to fight on and it steals my hope and darkens my eyesight so I can’t see God’s glory. So, fighting despondency with a serious commitment to learning God’s wisdom, and His love through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving seest me up to stay free from the slavery of despondency!
Today, are you gripped by a lack of hope? Is life to the point you see no way out? Stop for a moment and do something that is very difficult for you. Quit believing the lie that there is no hope! And start doing what is really difficult to do: move toward freedom from despondency through the daily practice of the disciplines of the Faith.