Resting in God


The Pulley (1633)

by George Herbert 

When God at first made man,

Having a glass of blessings standing by;

Let us (said he) pour on him all we can;

Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,

Contract into a span.


So strength first made a way;

Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour,


When almost all was out, God made a stay,

Perceiving that alone of all his treasure

Rest in the bottom lay.


For if I should (said he)

Bestow this jewel also on my creature,

He would adore my gifts instead of me,

And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;

So both should losers be.


Yet let him keep the rest,

But keep them with repining restlessness:

Let him be rich and weary, that at least,

If goodness lead him not, yet wearinesss

May toss him to my breast


Sometimes I think our world is weary and then I find out it’s just me.

How far, how much, how unfathomable are the lengths to which we go with wealth. Whole villages are bought for our philanthropy or, better yet,  take a child and grant him Hollywood.

What terrible irony that such a city should be named for the blessed Cross of Christ, though no one ever thinks of the Holy Wood when they hear the name invoked.

There is a weariness of a world which no longer rejoices in the birth of children, only of a child, who, alone, will bear the brunt of all a family’s hopes, if hopes there be. But now our world shrinks, as Malthusian fears triumph and children are heard less and less. And with the divorce comes the blessing, “At least they had no children.”

Children are a marvelous gift of God. My parish is beginning to flourish with children and pregnant women. It is a noise I had almost forgotten as my own children have slowly grown into quiet, thinking, mostly adults. But in Western Country after Western Country, birthrates continue to shrink. Excuses such as overpopulation and the like come easily when the truth is that children “cost too much” and they’re “ever so much bother.” Surely it cannot be that the post-Christian nations of the world are so good that they have birth-controlled themselves out of existence and yet that is the claim.

The Marriage service of the Church in Orthodoxy is so unlike that of the West. No promises, no contract, indeed the bride and groom almost disappear in the midst of the prayers and songs – begging of God the blessings of children and their prosperity. “May you see your children’s children!” A prayer that has become almost a complete impossibility in some countries, where a generation of only children have made the words “aunt” and “uncle” obsolete – where no child will ever have a cousin. What will it mean?

John Paul II once spoke of the “culture of death” when he described the West. We’re not so much the culture of death as the culture that isn’t living. Sure, we kill plenty of people and would kill many more if only electorates would let us. Fewer elderly and fewer unborn would somehow make things better. There would be “less suffering.” But the goodness that afflicts us is the goodness that bears no fruit. Sex that has no purpose – wealth with nothing to buy and no one to buy it for.

Some are writing today of a “clash of civilizations,” but that would presume that there are at least two civilizations involved. Ours is weary, deeply weary. We can only pray that it draws us to God’s breast and not to the yawning emptiness that we create for ourselves.

O gracious God, forgive us as we despise the life you so abundantly shed. Teach us to love life and bless it for the gift it truly is.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





18 responses to “Resting in God”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The photo is another Freeman family shot – this one is from about 18 years ago – so it’s missing the youngest of our children. But I remember they were a lot louder then.

  2. handmaidleah Avatar

    Fr. Bless!
    There is a new movie, from Hollywood, called Children of Men, that is opening today. It will be interesting to see the reaction. I don’t know the whole premise but women can no longer produce children, infertility is the status quo, until one woman gets pregnant and then becomes hunted. Its a chase movie, in essence.
    Now Hollywood is celebrating Dakota Fanning’s rape scene in an upcoming movie as some rite of passage of this very young actress. Remember Brooke Shields and her nude scenes at age twelve? The world is harsh enough without have to live it in my entertainment too. This script was presented to this young actress so that she could be in something provacative for an Oscar (heaven forbid she gain and lose weight for it, that would be controversial; she’s waaay too young) and please not the sarcasm is really intended there!
    At times we are very warped as human beings. Our compassion gets skewed and we just cannot cut through the relativism.
    And Father? Why do i do some of my best bloggin on your blog?
    the handmaid,

  3. Catechumen Trevor Avatar

    There’s a good audio series posted at

    having a lot to do with this topic. I’m also reminded of the last chapter in the book Why the Rest Hates the West. I believe the author is an Evangelical, but IMO he nails the main problems with Western culture. In the last chapter, he talks about how we’re killing ourselves off as a cumulative result of the factors considered in the rest of the book. My further thoughts on the book are on my blog:

  4. fatherstephen Avatar


    It’s the inspiring photography!

  5. Meg Lark Avatar
    Meg Lark

    We only had two kids. Bought into Zero Population Growth. NOW, in our 60s, we regret it — the kids were so much fun, and it would have been so nice to have more people to share the fun with. So nowadays I tell people, “Always have one more than you think you can afford. God will provide.” I get some weird looks, but I still think it’s good advice. I only wish we’d followed it.

  6. handmaidleah Avatar

    Father, you have great photographs! Meg you are so right, that is great advice, we only had one, I became sick with Rheumatoid Arthrits after the birth of our first and only child. We thought one would be okay and it has been, but I so didn’t get my “mothering out” as they say. I still long for more children and always advise never to leave a child an only, it is brutally unfair. He is very adult at a young age and his children will have no aunts and uncles. Extended family was a huge part of my growing up; a lovely part, still is. This is a trend that must needs be reversed.
    the handmaid,

    Leah grew up!

  7. bigjolly Avatar

    Aw, man, you guys are killin’ me. I don’t want to say it but I must because I respect the work of Fr. Stephen (no, I’m not Orthodox) even if he thinks I’m….

    There must be something to be said for allowing God to send me children than allowing me to determine how many. I remember calling my wife from the Dr.’s office after I’d had a vasectomy. She was, to put it mildly, surprised. No, I didn’t tell her. Nor did I pray about it. It was shortly after our 2nd child and I just decided we weren’t going to have any more children.

    I very much regret that decision. 20 years later. Who knows what my life would have been like with more children. Lesson is, trust God. Only. Always. In everything. Even if you are not Orthodox. God Is.

  8. Fatherstephen Avatar

    My mother was one of 12, my father one of 5, and all lived in the same county. Heck, I thought I was kin to the entire county! But some of the stories do fit the things you hear from Southern jokes. Like meeting someone at a family reunion and wondering if you’re too close genetically to date. That happened to me.

    As it was I married a woman from another county. She was one of 4, I was one of 3. I encourage them larger, the better. But I pray for God to help those who have not been able to do this. That’s a world away from the suicide of the West.


    I read the Children of Men some years ago. If it’s as good as the book, it’ll be sobering.

  9. James the Thickheaded Avatar
    James the Thickheaded

    Fr. Stephen:

    I love your blog. Fact is, I love the fact that yours is the only blog where folks have actually blogged even the “About” and “Rules” pages. Go figure!!

    I think one of the things that springs to mind is how easily we give in to tears, to longing for a better world, and “cringing” for the world we have. Jun Huzinga in “Waning of the Middle Ages” mentions the frequency of tears….as people lamented their losses from the plague. They suffered “melancholia”. Today’s absence of joy amongst Christians brings a similar pause to mind. Sure we live amongst a Holocaust of Abortion, of the losses amongst our loved ones from AIDS and other STD’s, frorm the random gunfire and floatsam-and-jetsam maiming and killing, from so many other ills of modernity….but unless we find joy in this that we can share somehow, unless we do more than share each other’s pain, Christianity becomes simply a religion for the walking wounded. I do not say this without heart….but because I truly feel these pains and do in fact suffer some of these “unmanly” tears even if at times I can’t explain why….other than I must be repenting my own culpability, my own inability to stop these things from happening, and sharing a sense of loss.

    So where do we find our joy? We cannot forget the joy we have been granted. We must… we really really must seek it in the gifts and abundance amongst us! I was encouraged by a quote from Mother Theresa on smiling I saw today: “Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” I think she had a start on it there…

  10. handmaidleah Avatar

    Dear James,
    I find joy in Christ and the Orthodox faith with which He has given me to work out my salvation, as well as the health that I now have because of Him. These things are a cause of great celebration in my life! I was very sick before I was Orthodox, Christ has given me health and life. What shall I render to the Lord for all His bounty to me? Psalm 115
    In my experience it was a simple thing, I sought and I still do, seek Him everyday, and I go to worship Him every chance that I get with my brother and sisters in Christ.
    He has given me food and drink indeed. If I have tears and often I do, it is because I cannot understand why He should love me at all.
    One of the very first songs that I memorized in the Orthodox Church is the Lord I call:
    Lord I call upon Thee, hear me; Hear me O Lord, Lord, I call upon Thee, hear me; receive the voice of my prayer, when I call upon Thee; Hear me o Lord. Let my prayer arise; in Thy sight as incense and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice, hear me O Lord.
    Yeah, we Orthodox may be just a bunch of “Psalm Singers” but who messes with perfection?
    Glory to God for all things!
    the handmaid,

  11. Stephen Ullstrom Avatar
    Stephen Ullstrom

    On the topic of big families, I too am all for them. And adoption is a great way,though not always an easy way, of getting there. My two youngest brothers are adopted, so there are now five of us kids. The first was unplanned, though God knew what he was doing, and with the second, God’s hand was definately evident there too. Having them join our family was not easy and required a lot of adjusting as they were ages 7 and 11 respectively when adopted, but it has been so worth it. A lot of people though we were crazy,just inviting a lot of trouble and expense, but our family has been so enriched by those two, even through the hard times, and I now can’t imagine life without them. God truly does provide.

  12. Stephen Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Perhaps one answer to why this is happening is the reliance on the government that so many of us come to expect, and is forced on those on who don’t. If the state will provide in my old age, then the less I need children to take care of me in my infirmity. If the state provides the charity thru my taxes, then why do I need to give above and beyond my taxes? The list goes on and on.

  13. Michael Avatar

    Bless Father!

    I would love your thoughts about contraception as an Orthdox Christian. Is there a constant teaching about this in Orthodoxy, is it considered dogmatic or unchangeable, or is there room for a spiritual father to tailor his advice depending on the situation of his people? I ask this as a father of four young ones — the recent pregnancy was greatly challenging to my wife’s health and to our marriage, and I almost despaired at times. I do however thank God for our new child. Is celibacy our only real option? Your words would be treasured by this sinner.

  14. Fatherstephen Avatar


    It is a matter to take up with one’s spiritual father. Most public statements in Orthodox jurisdictions leave the door open slightly for some forms of contraception (not abortofacients). A couple is expected to be committed to having children – it is one of the blessings of marriage. Health is an appropriate consideration, I would think. But celibacy is not the only option. Very few marriages would be able to sustain such ascesis. The OCA has an official document on marriage – look on the website. You may find it helpful.

  15. Michael Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have, then, a related question, but one which might be pursued better off the blog. Can you contact me directly, or may I do so with you?

  16. Kathryn Avatar

    “…a generation of only children have made the words “aunt” and “uncle” obsolete – where no child will ever have a cousin. What will it mean?”

    I have reflected on this both as a child, not having any cousins because my two uncles never had any children, and as an adult suffering from secondary infertility and having only one child. What will being the only child mean for my dear daughter? Who will be her family when her father and I are gone? How do I comfort her when she is saddened after Sunday School from the realization that she is the only school age child at church with no sibling? Can our little family be respected as a whole both by us and by those outside our family?

    These are all questions that I continually ask. I have found some meaning and dignity for my family in the icon of family of the Theotokos. It is the one with Anna, Joachim and the Theotokos embracing in front of the Temple. I bought the icon and put it in my daughter’s room. Although she’s only six, it made a profound impact on her that the Theotokos also was an only child. It has been a great source of comfort to me as well. Of course, there is also the family of St. John the Baptist. These are wonderful families that I hope are praying for my little family.

    Please pray for those families that are infertile with no children and those who long to have more. Remember, when you are looking around at childless couples and small families that in the U.S. over 10% of women of childbearing age suffer from infertility. And I do mean suffer.



  17. fatherstephen Avatar


    Your words go right to my heart. First, you are so right in your reflections, including being aware of the pain. This is contrasted to so many who have embraced a Malthusian notion and boast of their only child like they had saved the planet.

    I deeply assure all here that none of my words were meant to hurt, but for us to see what is happening in our world. God will comfort and help all who hurt. The pain of childlessness is a deep Biblical theme, going up to Joachim and Anne, where the Theotokos is their answered prayer. We could add Abraham and Sarah, Hannah, and so many others.

    But we must not let the pupulation time bomb people frighten us from our joy. And we must help those who have been deprived of children for whatever reason – which includes poor choices at an earlier time of life.

    God will comfort us all, for we have none other but Him.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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