I noticed three “sayings” in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers the other day:
[Abba Poemen] also said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”
He also said, “When self-will and ease become habitual, they overthrow a man.”
He also said concerning Abba Pior that every day he made a new beginning.
These sayings seemed significant to me personally, as I reflected on my four days away from home visiting friends out of town.
The friends I visited are faithful and devout Catholics, but their life is not my life! I have purposely made my life more monastic in style, even though I am a lay person. Their lives are more like those of the laity, with a strong prayer life. In visiting them, I had to basically abandon the structure I have provided for myself by praying the Divine Office and by having a set time and place to do so.
I thought that perhaps I had built up the hermitage of my heart to the point that I could successfully weather the four days away from my spiritual life; I was hoping that I could sneak in a few of the hours (I did), and maintain an attitude of prayer and penance internally. I discovered how weak I am.
The time I spent with my friends was enjoyable and filled with talk about the Church and the faith. But still, my time there was tied much more to the secular world than it is when I am at home. It was easy to be sucked into doing more worldly things (not sinful, just secular); perhaps “earthly” is a better word. I was pulled away from my discursive prayers, and even though I thought that wouldn’t bother me too much, it did. I can see the danger in “giving your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” For a few days I abandoned that which does satisfy my heart, and I opened myself up to some pesky demons who wanted me to forget who I really am. I had a few dark moments.
Did “self-will and ease become habitual” for me during those few days? Yes, in a sense, they did. I did not follow the discipline of the Divine Office. This was more by necessity than by my own will, but even when I had opportunity to pray, it was difficult to exercise the self-control to do it. Sleep was easily accessible, too! I realized how the “ease” of an uninterrupted night’s sleep can weaken one’s resolve to fight against those sneaky demons.
But that last saying encourages me: “Every day he made a new beginning.” That is what I strive to do. I have a tendency to self-condemnation when I fail in my duty to prayer; this of course is simply pride at work; how could I ever expect to maintain my prayer “schedule” without the grace of God to sustain me in it? Of course I am too weak to maintain the discipline of my Rule without His help! And the demons use that prideful self-condemnation to introduce a dose or two of depression, hoping to lead me to despair. And so, I have learned to renounce their efforts and just start over. I tell the Lord I am sorry for my weakness and laziness, and I ask for His help to do better the next day.
It’s always a day-to-day endeavor, too. I never know from one day to the next whether I will succeed in being faithful to my Rule; I only know that I can ask the Lord for His help and that He will give me grace in the measure He finds fitting.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.