When We Find Ourselves Needing Some Leisure Time, Take It

When We Find Ourselves Needing Some Leisure Time, Take It July 9, 2024

elycefeliz: St. Antony The Great / flickr

Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies. We let our worst thoughts get the best of us. We find ourselves becoming stuck in a bad headspace, and when that happens, we don’t know what to do to get out of it. This is especially true with those who are actively striving for perfection in their lives. They think all they should be doing is wrestling with all their temptations, and the thoughts which generate them, but in doing so, they often strengthen those thoughts instead of overcome them because of the focus they give them. They give those thoughts the space they need in their lives to continue to thrive. The reason why they do this is that they think that it would be slothful if they didn’t confront such thoughts when they appear, but in focusing on them, all they do is give those thoughts the fuel they need to continue on. Eventually, with all their focus turned inward, with all their attachment being upon themselves and all the bad things they see going on in their minds, they lose sight of their lives and the good which can be and should be found in it. Eventually, they can leads to acedia, where they lose all care and concern for life itself.

A good, healthy spirituality, certainly will have us struggle against temptation, against our worst thoughts, but it will also have us do so by finding a way to detach ourselves from those thoughts, to not always notice them, to not give them space, so that we can move beyond them. We must fight them,  but one way to do that is to push them aside and have our focus elsewhere. We must let them vanish just as they emerged. One of the best ways to do this is to find a way to appreciate  the life we have been given, to find something which we enjoy and do it so that we find ourselves becoming reinvigorated by it. St. Antony the Great understood this; while he would  tell monks not to become slothful, and so, not to needlessly wander outside their cell, he did not think monks should stay put if and when it was proven to be unproductive for them, especially if it led to acedia. Thus, we read:

Abba Antony said, ‘When you are moved by thoughts that distress you that you cannot chase away sufficiently, go outside into the fresh air and they will leave you.’[1]

We should take time to go out and enjoy the world, to go out and see the goodness of God’s creation. This way, we can contemplate the glory of God as it is revealed in and through nature. This will help us see that life is good, that its goodness is found, not just in ourselves, but in the things around us, and it is a good which we can enjoy so long as we engage that goodness in a proper fashion. When find ourselves becoming stuck in a bad situation, such as finding ourselves being stuck in a war against evil thoughts and the temptations they bring, the best thing to do is to end it by getting over ourselves, for it is often some element of egotism and the attachments it forms which keep us trapped in a situation which is not good for us.  We can and should leave it all behind so that we can embrace the glory which is beyond ourselves, letting that glory penetrate us, and in doing so, finding that all that we were fighting, all that was clouding our mind, vanishes because of the grace which is found in that glory.

We can’t do all things ourselves; it is often pride which makes us stay put, constantly fighting the bad thoughts within, constantly focusing on them, and in doing so, giving them what they need to control and manipulate us;  when we realize, despite all the ways we tried to fight against them, we have not been successful but they remain there, just as powerful as they ever were, we accept that our victory over them will not come from ourselves, but from outside ourselves, that is, from God and God’s grace. There are many ways God shares grace, each of which can be said to be a kind of grace.  Everything, in the goodness given to it by God, has its own grace, a grace which can be and will be shared, and this is exactly what we can receive when we go out into the world and contemplate and open ourselves to the goodness found in all things. That is, as we enjoy the world around us, we enjoy the glory God has given to the world, to be sure, a reflected glory of God’s own glory, but yet a glory with its own share of graces, and so the more we are open to that glory, the more we find ourselves open to God, the source and foundation of that glory. This is why, going out to the world, going out to nature, to commune with it can and will provide us the support we need to resist temptation.

It is important for us to be flexible in our spiritual engagements. When we discover what we are doing is not working for us, we should be open to try other things. Rigorism takes what should be flexible and makes it inflexible, as it embraces one way to an extreme, and in that extreme, begins to create rules which it suggests should be followed by everyone. Thus rigorism often end up creating and establishing a legalistic spirit, the kind which does not have the flexibility needed for continuous spiritual development. Antony, when he told monks, and through that, told us, that sometimes it is important to move on and take time to enjoy life, to embrace leisure time, shows us he understood that those who do not do so are being broken down and destroyed by their own rigorism, their own legalism, or a combination therefore. Seeing that as a problem, he also made it sure people understood a good spirituality would never be such legalistic:

Abba Antony also said: ‘It is not what is written in the letter of the law that makes for righteousness; rather, it is the purified heart: this is what makes for human righteousness.’[2]

The purified heart comes, in part, from our struggles, but it also comes in part from grace, and so long as we struggle in such a way as to think we can and will do all things ourselves, our hearts will never be pure. But if we take in the good which is around us, if we take some time to relax and let out all our anxiety, all our stress,  we then find in and through our leisure time we come in contact with all kinds of graces, graces which will provide us what we need to truly make spiritual progress until, at last, over time, with our combined struggle and grace, we find ourselves truly pure at heart. Legalism and rigorism always limits us in such a way that much of that which is good is cut asunder, and without that good and the grace contained in it, we will never find ourselves embracing all that is good and so never truly attain purity of heart. Those who know how to have a spirituality which is not stuck with the letter of the law, the letter of the spiritual message they are told, but capable of going to the meaning beyond words and embrace it, will find themselves able to embrace flexibility in their spirituality, and through such flexibility, they will be able to cooperate with all kinds of grace until, at last, the purity which they seek will be theirs.

[1] More Sayings of the Desert Fathers. An English Translation And Notes. Ed. John Wortley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019; repr. 2023),  140 [“Sayings Preserved in Coptic”: C53].

[2] More Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 141 [“Sayings Preserved in Coptic”: C55].


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