What We Cannot Change

There is no doubt that God is changing the world – though most of this work is hidden. A strange part of this hiddenness is the work that God does within us. The work is not entirely hidden – I can look back and see change that has occurred in my life – it’s just that it helps sometimes to live long enough to see it.

Human beings seem to change at a pace that is entirely human – which should come as no surprise. Thus we find ourselves going to confession repeatedly with the same sins. But apart from abrupt personality changes, this is simply the likeliest and most human of events. The struggle against some sin is the struggle of a lifetime.

Some things happen quickly – in a “single moment” as we sing about the thief on the cross. But these are rare or involve decisions that have as their very character an either-or nature. “Either I am going to say yes or no.”

Patience is perhaps the most common word in the New Testament. Indeed, in its full meaning it is not just patience but “patient endurance.” Being patient is one thing, but bearing with the things with which we must bear while we are waiting is the stuff that endurance is made of. And, of course, if the change we are waiting on is in someone else (a lousy spiritual practice), the wait can be a very long time.

God is indeed transfiguring the world, and each of us in it as we give ourselves to Him. But this is always a day to day effort and generally a slow work. But occasionally – just occasionally – grace does what we would never do and we find ourselves already become what we could not be.

This is the grace of prayer, for instance. The marvelous gift of prayer when we did not think we could pray, or an act of kindness when our heart was deeply hardened. I give thanks to God for these small, sudden changes, gifts of grace that tell us not to lose heart in the long struggle. God wins. What I cannot change, He can, and will. Thanks be to God for His grace.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





6 responses to “What We Cannot Change”

  1. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    You know, father, I’ve been contemplating your last few posts and have come to the conclusion that there is more work to be done in the interior than all the work that could ever be done to the exterior.

    But that makes sense.

    Didn’t one of the fathers say that the interior of a man is more vast than the outside world. Inside a man dwell all the angels, all the demons, all the saints, and even God Himself, making the inside of a man’s soul larger than all the outside cosmos.

    I’m sure this father did not mean that these only dwell within as if all this was the imagination of humanity, but meant to teach that it is coming to grips with my interior life that will finally allow me the freedom of sobriety and peace.

    I don’t know. Perhaps all this is meaningless speculation. But I think it also may be an invitation by the Spirit to finally come to grips with my own darkness and be healed.

    A recent quote I read from Fr. Sophrony was “There are three things I cannot take in: nondogmatic faith, nonecclesiological Christianity and nonascetic Christianity. These three – the church, dogma, and asceticism – constitute one single life for me.” – Letter to D. Balfour, August 21, 1945. Isn’t it interesting that these three – the Church, dogma, and asceticism all require an interior spiritual life to make sense?

    In any event, thank you for the work. And now to the interior work of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

  2. Fatherstephen Avatar


    I well agree, and share your estimation of the difficulty of interior work. Much of my self would do anything to avoid it.

  3. handmaidleah Avatar

    St. Silouan says,’Everyone who would follow the Lord Jesus Christ is engaged in spiritual warfare. The Saints by long experience learned from the grace of the Holy Spirit how to wage this war. The Holy Spirit appointed their footsteps and gave them understanding to overcome the enemy; but without the Holy Spirit the soul is incapable of even embarking on the struggle, for she neither knows nor understands who and where her enemies are.
    Blessed are we Orthodox Christians because we live under the protection of God’s mercy. It is not difficult for us to wage this war; the Lord had pity on us and gave us the Holy Spirit Who abides in our Church. Our only sorrow is that not everyone knows God and how greatly He loves us. The man who prays is conscious of this love, and the Spirit of God bears witness in his soul to salvation.
    Our battle rages every day, every hour…’
    St. Silouan the Athonite; Concerning Spiritual Warfare
    It is difficult to humble the will, the pride and conceit that our society so prizes. This is the battle that I wage, the one for humility. St. Silouan goes on to say quite beautifully how once achieved quietness will come to your soul with the return of the Holy Spirit. I have felt this for awhile after confession.

  4. Steve Hayes Avatar

    I have known several people who have turned to God, and have been given a sudden victory over one besetting sin. I believe that this is because God knows they need that to encourage them in the long struggle against the rest of their sins.

    That has not been my experience, and I sometimes get a bit discouraged at having to confess the same sins over and over again. Then I read your post, and that was encouragement.

  5. Steve Hayes Avatar

    Oh, and handmaid Leah, could you give me the source of the St Silouan quote on spiritual warfare?

    A group of people are planning a synchronised blog on spiritual warfare in January, and I would like to include the quote, if possible.

  6. handmaidleah Avatar

    St. Silouan the Athonite by Archmandrite Sophrony Sakharov; Chapter XVI (page 423) of Part II The Writings of Saint Silouan.
    Hope that helps!
    the handmaid,

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