"None of the painful things that happen to us every day will injure or distress us once we perceive and continually meditate on their purpose. It is on account of this that St. Paul says: 'I take delight in weakness, insults and hardships' (2 Cor. 10:12), and: 'All who seek to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution' (2 Tim. 3:12)."
St. Philotheos of Sinai
I was planning on writing a bit about this quote, as well as excerpts from this book, but James Ferrenberg has coincidently just posted a wonderful piece on this subject!
Check out his 6/11 post on the "Health(Sickness) and Wealth(Povery) Gospel." (Permalinks still down....)
Just last night I visited my step-mother who recently decided to take in her invalid father and care for him. He was badly burned in a house fire and subsequently needs 24 hour care. Although my step-mother is mentally and physically exhausted most of the time, she is giving thanks to God daily. Not just because her father is still alive (miraculous though that is); but because she is beginning to experience the love of God in a way she never had before.
She has been given the blessing to live out, in a truly incarnated way, Matthew 25...."I was hungry and you fed me...." She recognizes the paradox of pain: her father's suffering is not, ontologically, a good thing. In God's original plan for humanity, he was not made to suffer. Yet his suffering, as much as it is offered to Christ allows him to participate in the sufferings of Christ. (Col. 1:24).
As James points out, our modern culture teaches us to glory in things we can tell are "good." Health, wealth, material goods, ect. How different this is than the words of St. Paul! "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." (2 Cor. 11:30)
Many might be tempted to question God by asking "Why was he kept alive after going through a horrific accident?" While these questions are normal, they betray a certain worldly mindset and vision of what really constitues "health."
Could it be that God is giving him more time to repent of his sins so his soul will be healed? Could it be for the salvation and strengthening of my step-mother in faith and love? If repentance and humility are the keys to growth in Christ, is it possible that perfect health might be an obstacle to gaining these fruits? For the Orthodox, there are no coincidences. There are no accidents, even those things which on the surface may seem to be. "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." (Gen 50:20). While we recognize that evil, suffering, and pain are not illusions, neither are they all-powerful. *Anything* that results in an increase of humility, prayer, love, and repentance is something to give thanks to God for. Even suffering....perhaps one could say, *especially* suffering.
Most Orthodox Christians incorporate the following prayer into their regular rule to remind them of this. I try and say it in the morning after I get to work. It is a prayer which speaks to those of us who suffer and helps to give a proper perspective on pain and suffering in our lives:
"O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And you, yourself, pray in me. Amen."