When I was a Protestant, I heard all kinds of platitudes for “explanations” of why God allowed such horrible things to happen to me, including the abuse and poverty I endured. I hated the platitudes, and at times, the people who spewed them. It didn’t help. I didn’t want to believe that a loving God would purposefully allow, much less send, things like that into anyone’s life. I didn’t think anyone deserved those things, much less that I did. I couldn’t see any good reason for them.
Christian platitudes never end
Since I’ve become Orthodox, I’ve still heard a lot of those platitudes, along with some new ones, about how life is suffering, and I still didn’t like them. It seemed to me that people were still making God out to be a horrible Creature, and that anyone who accepted these ideas had to be depressed. Why would life be worth living, if all it’s about is suffering?
Then I began to see a longer-term perspective—a longer term going beyond this lifetime—due to reading some of the quotes from saints. What if it is—or could be, if we let it—a purifying process? What if it’s true that it’s not about whether or not we will suffer, but about how we handle it? What if the whole point is learning to handle these nasty things quietly, without kicking and screaming? What if THAT is the point of these difficult things?
Some people have come to this conclusion long before I did, many of them with far less suffering than I took to begin to see things this way.
How I survived
I stayed alive the first 20 years of my life or so by kicking and screaming most of the way, by objecting to the horrendous things that were done to my mind, body, and soul during all those years of abuse. Objecting to the things being done to me, believing that I deserved better, that there was something better to look forward to in life… that’s what kept me alive. Or so I thought.
And now, the terrible thought: what if, instead of being what kept me alive, what if that held me back somehow? What if, had I believed that I deserved that treatment, that it was somehow good for me, that it was a “blessing in disguise,” what if that would have cleansed and developed me more, somehow, if I had approached things with a different mindset? When I “tried on” those attitudes I heard from others, I immediately rejected them. They were not helpful in the least, at the time. But what if they had been? What if I had decided to respond in a way that could have transformed me into something even better than the way I dealt with it did? Could I be a saint by now?
Dealing with suffering
There are currently some pretty bad things going on in my life, though thank God I’m not being sexually assaulted or knocked around anymore. Some would say the current happenings are no fault of our own, but we all know that our decisions lead to consequences, so…though my husband and I were deceived by someone, and though these things are wrong and illegal, I still put us here. I also say the current situation is still better than the one my decision got us out of, and I hope it will be worth it in the end. Some Orthodox friends have encouraged me to get a lawyer, or to get out of the situation (both impossible for us to do).
The other night, when I read a quote about the importance being not what we are going through or getting it to stop, but HOW we go through it, it reinforced decision I had made to endure this. Maybe I hadn’t been doing it so quietly. I had been complaining about it somewhat. I can still pray that the situation will be resolved soon, but in the meantime, I can go through it with a quieter, calmer spirit than before.
The process of transformation
This is the part of Orthodoxy that I find so hard to explain to people. Yes, the historicity and therefore authenticity of the Church that Christ founded is all I needed to decide to convert. But this…this process of transformation…sometimes it’s so gradual we don’t notice it, and other times, we can see it as it’s happening. Who knows where we’ll end up, or what we’ll end up looking like, but we sure won’t be the same.
Maybe instead of going kicking and screaming, digging in my heels all the way, objecting, “This seems like a horrible idea, God,” maybe I can feel okay with the decision to believe that it really is for the best, no matter how idiotic or unfair it may seem to me. And plenty of things have seemed idiotic and unfair, and I have no qualms saying that. God knows exactly what I think, anyway, and trying to hide it is useless.
God wants some people poor
There was another statement by a saint, about how some are rich, and some are poor no matter what they do, and that even though it seems unfair, God is using it. I have railed against that notion since I was a child. I thought when people quoted scriptures along that theme, it was just wealthy people justifying the way they trample on the backs of the poor.
If anyone deserved to be wealthy, I thought… if anyone deserved to benefit from all her hard work, I was the one. I had so many dreams of helping so many people, but all I could do when someone else was in need was to cry with them and pray for them. Anything I had to give was just a drop in the bucket and didn’t make any difference. It was so frustrating to be unable to make any kind of difference physically, materially, practically.
And now, I accept that for whatever reason (I always swore it was because God hated me for some reason unknown to me), I’m going to be broke and unable to provide any kind of financial help to others my whole life. I don’t say “poor” because I believe in America, “poor” is caused by mindset and decisions; it’s a way of life and “broke” is a bank account status.
God wants me to be broke
So, apparently, God is going to keep me in poverty forever, living hand-to-mouth, and He thinks it’s a good idea to do that. Knowing my luck, he’ll keep me that way in heaven, too. There will never be the luxury of being able to buy clothing from a retail store, or to go out to eat on a whim, or to have a home that isn’t riddled with code violations. I’ll never be able to look at my bank statement and sigh with relief, knowing that when something comes up (in our lives or the lives of others), we can just write a check and take care of it, like so many people we know can. That has probably always been the truth, the way is was going to be, though only God knows why. It doesn’t matter how many books I read on building wealth, or how many decisions I make that line up with how rich people think and behave, or how many hours I work on my marketable skills each week (it’s “many” on all counts).
Accepting God’s will
(That phrase sounds so Protestant to me. Sorry. If there’s an Orthodox equivalent, I don’t know it yet.)
The only thing that has changed is now I’ve started to accept it. Do I like it? Nope. Do I think this is because I’m depressed? Clinicians would probably say yes, but I don’t. I think it means that I’ve come to the conclusion that for some reason, God thinks it’s good for me to lack in material things. Thankfully, I am surrounded by resources for spiritual growth, so at least I can work on that. Something tells me He won’t deprive me of those things, and in the long run—and I mean the eternal long run—those are better anyway, though the material is important to God or He wouldn’t have created it. It’s just not something He wants me to have.
It would be nice if God would lift this ban on good things and grant me some comfort in this life, but something tells me He never will. And something tells me that even though it will never be fair and I will never have the things I want no matter how long and hard I work, eventually it won’t matter anymore. In the meantime, I’m going to double my spiritual reading and prayer time again. Something good may come of it.
It definitely takes a load of stress off, deciding to stop trying to climb out of this hole, just hang out with the kids and become like them: have no aspirations in life. As long as I don’t think about it, just totally shut down my brain about it, I can live with it.
Thinking is the enemy
The moment I start to think, though…I’m right back to trying to make things better, even though it seems God wants the opposite. Something tells me that He’s going to have to remove the part of my brain that is responsible for seeing possibilities if I am ever to become a saint, because as long as I am aware that there might be a chance, I’m going to keep going back to fighting with how things are and trying to have a better life. I think that saints must be able to shut down that part of their brains, to be able to just accept things the way they are and have no desires or drive to make things better. I haven’t totally become okay with this even now. Maybe I’ll never be able to, but I can keep working on it, and I will.