by Senote Keriakes
I am writing this to share something which I have personally experienced, in the hope that someone might benefit from it. I aim to keep this reflective, and hopefully not in any way didactic.
For a very long time I thought that my barrier to repentance or my barrier to living a fulfilling, God fearing life was sin. I have come to realize that perhaps this might not be the case.
In reality, at least for me, the wall that stands between me and repentance is erected long before I have committed a sin. It is erected in the moments right after I do something I perceive to be ‘good’. As soon as I know I have committed a ‘good deed’, I get that warm, fuzzy feeling and start to imagine the ideal version of myself that I will hopefully soon transform into, thanks to the deed which I have just committed.
This ideal version of myself, let’s call him Senote 2.0 is the perfect Christian. He never misses the mass, never misses the Sunday school service, is polite, never gets angry, is patient, doesn’t road rage and always remembers to pray his agpeya before going to bed.
Whilst it’s great to strive to be a better person, I’ve personally found that this train of thought can be quite toxic when it comes to my spiritual life.
The reason I describe this as being the point at which the wall between me and repentance is erected, is because this mentality keeps me in fantasy land. It makes me think that I really am perfect, when I am quite the opposite. The next time I fall into sin, I am struck with the realization that I am nowhere near the person I want to be. This realization is, quite understandably, deflating and demoralizing, and can then lead to a cycle of sin and lack of spiritual motivation. In my mind, I’m thinking ‘What’s the point in trying? I’ll never be Senote 2.0’.
I’m honestly not sure if other people do experience this, but in case you do, I’ll share with you what I have personally found to be helpful in dealing with this.
Firstly, I have found that it's best to take it step by step when it comes to the spiritual stuff. I have tried to avoid thinking of Senote 2.0 for now, instead just focusing on the next step in my spiritual journey. That way when I do fall into sin, it only feels like I am falling from the small step which I took yesterday, rather than falling from the chimerically elevated Senote 2.0 which I’ve constructed in my mind. This makes the recovery back to God through repentance a much less daunting task.
Secondly, I have found that getting angry at myself when I do fall into sin is very counterproductive. Brother Lawrence in ‘The practice of the presence of God’ explains that he was someone who was in constant conversation with God. When something nice happens, he thanks God, when something inconvenient happens, he asks God for help. When he sinned, he asked God for forgiveness and moved on with his life. This of course does not negate the need for repentance and confession, as these things are essential for our forgiveness. It just means that there’s no need to dwell on that sin for too long. In one of his sermons, Fr Anthony Messeh says to “pray, but not too much”, in the sense that we should mention our concerns and petitions to God in prayer, but that we shouldn’t do it obsessively and to the point where this issue or sin becomes amplified in our minds.
It’s important to understand that we aren’t perfect, and that, as humans, we have a propensity to sin. A priest once explained this to me by comparing Christians facing the spiritual struggle to soldiers facing battle. A soldier doesn’t enter battle thinking he will come out unscathed. He knows that there is a great chance he will be injured. Similarly, we should understand that during the spiritual struggle it is quite possible that we will fall into sin. However, our response to sin should be asking for forgiveness rather than lambasting ourselves for the spiritual weakness which is part of our nature.
I will leave you with an excerpt from ‘The Practice of the presence of God’; “I can do no better without you [Lord]. Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make”