The Right Choice

adameve“If you come to a fork in the road – take it.” – Yogi Berra

Nothing is more common in our day than making choices. Our culture celebrates the freedom we have in our choices and points to this as a hallmark of its greatness. Contemporary Christianity echoes the same theme and urges us to “choose Jesus.” But strangely, choice is not a fundamental part of Christian virtue – indeed, choice, as we understand it in the modern world, is a product of sin and brokenness.

How do you choose when you face something important? Do you make lists of pro’s and con’s? Do you consider the consequences of pain and pleasure? Do you think about the greatest good? Do you simply pray and ask to make the right choice?

All of these have reasonable support. But all of them fail to understand the true nature of our problem. If we made all of the “right” choices in our lives, never making a single wrong choice, we would still suffer from the same disease of brokenness and sin. Right choices are not the medicine that Christ has given us.

The problem lies within a disease of the will. It is broken.

St. Maximos the Confessor, in writings that have become the teaching of the Church following the 5th Ecumenical Council, held that there is such a thing as the “natural will.” This is the will of our human nature. The natural will always wills the good and right thing. It wills the proper end and direction for a human being. This is an inherent part of every nature. It “wants to be” what it is, so to speak.

But we do not directly experience our nature for the most part. What we experience as “choice” is a brokenness that St. Maximos called the “gnomic will.” It does its best (as we do when we’re at our best) but is frequently torn between things. We hear the sound of this in the Letter of St. James:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but let the rich glory in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. (Jam 1:5-10)

St. James uses the word δίψυχος (double-souled) for the doubting person. We would say, “I am of two-minds in the matter.” And this is pretty much the inherent state of the gnomic will. How can it be otherwise?

We all prefer pleasure over pain. But what if the painful route is the best route? We use various measures of success by which to judge a decision, but who can know if it is the right success? We even choose what we think to be good, better or best, but these are matters that are pretty much only known to God. And so we do the best we can and live in a double-souled state.

Christ addresses this with different language in the Sermon on the Mount.

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Mat 6:22-23)

He concludes this section of His teaching (which includes admonitions against mammon) by saying:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Mat 6:33)

His teaching to us is that our “eye” should be single, or whole (ἁπλοῦς), rather than divided in its loyalties. It is a matter of the deep heart.

The disciplines of the Christian life as taught in Orthodoxy are directed towards the healing of the double-mind. They are about acquiring a singularity of vision in which we begin to live in accord with our nature. This is true spiritual existence.

In monasticism, obedience to a spiritual father plays a key role in this spiritual therapy. Obedience, coupled with prayer and fasting and the whole monastic discipline, serves in time for the healing of what is broken. It is the gift of God.

In non-monastic practice, the commandments of Christ and the practice of confession and communion serve the same end. A key dynamic in this process is the place and role of shame. It is noted in the passage quoted earlier from St. James:

Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but let the rich glory in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. (James 1:9-10)

The Elder Sophrony speaks of this as “bearing a little shame” and “the remembrance of death.” Shame was the first wound experienced by Adam and Eve in the Genesis account. Bearing our shame was also part of the essential medicine of the Cross that Christ endured. When we “bear a little,” we unite ourselves to Christ and begin to find the depths of our being that are so completely hidden from us.

The heart of this union with Christ is the self-emptying of the Cross. Though we experience this as “bearing a little shame,” we are indeed bearing the naked truth of our being. It is the act of humility in which we find the true heart and the will of God (and our nature).

This spiritual path describes the patient work of following the commandments, even failing if that be, but bearing honestly the truth of ourselves in the presence of God, in prayer and confession. We must “let patience have its complete work” (James 1:4).

I have written previously that we are saved by our weakness and not by our excellence. In our excellence there is no shame, nothing that unites us with Christ on the Cross. We do not sin in order that grace may abound, as St. Paul says, but nevertheless our shame is the doorway to our union with Christ. In the words of the Elder Sophrony, “The way of shame is the way of the Lord.” St. John Climacus wrote, “Only through shame can you be freed from shame.” We already have more than enough shame and sin by which to be saved. But we will find union with Christ through no other means.

What we fail to realize is that our shame is itself a sign of the presence of God. Adam and Eve did not know their shame until they heard the sound of God. It was then that they hid themselves. They could not bear the shame, even though it was provoked by the presence of God.

Our own shame is also provoked by His presence. It is not caused by His presence, but it is our own reaction to His presence. We shrink away and turn the experience into anger or depression or any host of other symptoms of brokenness. It is why the Elder encourages us to “bear a little shame.” For in bearing it, particularly in the presence of His priest in confession, or within the heart in prayer, we find ourselves with God. And there we can pray. There He can comfort us. There we can be made whole. And we can stand there, “on the edge of the abyss until we can stand it no more,” and then we “have a cup of tea,” in the kind words of Elder Sophrony.

It is in this patient union with Christ that we become “of one soul.” Our eye becomes single. We will not be saved by our choices, but in our patient endurance. God wills to heal us and save us. The hard part is staying still long enough in His presence for that to happen.

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.



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53 responses to “The Right Choice”

  1. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Thank you, Father. It is difficult to know the presence of God in our shame and sin. Perhaps because we internalize so much of our shame? I begin to see where confession (in which I’ve yet to take part) would be helpful to us; to verbally “externalize” our shame is a hard thing.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron,
    Perhaps the hardest part is simply to expose oneself to the shame for a little bit. It is painful and we run from it. In my own experience as I’ve practiced this over the past several years, I have been discovering, first, that I am “bad” at a lot of things that I once thought I was good at. I can see that many of the things in others that are reactions to me, that make me experience them as enemies, are pretty much a product of my own brokenness. I could go on. But rather than being devastated and depressed about this (a shame reaction), I have slowly embraced it, endured it, prayed in the presence of it. And holding that reality and presence as I pray, it’s much easier to forgive enemies and to realize that they are just like me, or even a part of me. And so, you bring it into the presence of God.

    God’s reaction to the shame of Adam and Eve (their nakedness) was to provide them with garments of skin. For us, He covers us with the robe of righteousness. But you have to stay put long enough, and endure that nakedness and its burning embarrassment, so that He can put the robe on you.

  3. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Thank you Father Stephen, exactly the word I needed at this moment. So often I am the double-souled (my spell check wanted to write double-soiled!) man. I need so to be still and patient. The prophet Isaiah wrote…”in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Thank you again for your own gentle words of healing.

  4. drewster2000 Avatar
    drewster2000

    Thank you Fr. Stephen,

    This message is something I know very well but find it hard to put into words. It is the reason we should allow suffering and hardship in our lives, why we shouldn’t immediately turn away from things that are uncomfortable. As you say in the article, it’s all about learning to live in the truth of how things really are with myself at this time. No we couldn’t bear to see it all at once, but we have to make a beginning, to start by bearing a little.

    I believe this is the definition of humility: to acknowledge and accept what is – about ourselves, the world around us, and God Himself. The result of this acknowledgement is often the mysterious emotion of shame.

    I remember being marched around in boot camp. One day it started to rain. As long as there was no lightning our company commander could keep us going as long as he liked. I hated getting wet but after awhile we were all so soaked it just didn’t matter anymore.

    I think our encounters with shame are like that: revolting at first but after awhile we learn to lean into it and march forward boldly, counting on God for our continued existence while simultaneously coming to a level of comfort in calling things what they are.

  5. Tullius Avatar
    Tullius

    So what role does choice have in our salvation, theosis, etc?

  6. drewster2000 Avatar
    drewster2000

    We choose to do what we know is right, like not sticking our hand in the fire or enduring the pain of failure. As the reality of who we were made to be becomes obvious to us, we choose to be like that to the best of our ability – and then turn to God for help as we fail to do so. We throw our will in with God’s…continually.

  7. Emmie Avatar

    I wish I could tell you how timely this is. Since becoming a Catachumen and then Orthodox I have been more aware than ever in my life of my double mind. I can sense the natural will that wants what God wants. And my will seems to be trying desperately, frenetically, to hang on. I thought I knew about surrender, but it turns out I’m not so good at it. And being aware of the depth of the dichotemy in my soul is frankly terrifying to me. I often wonder how God can even stand it when I pray. I know he is merciful and that is my hope for salvation. Thank you, as always for the truth.

  8. Psalti Avatar
    Psalti

    I would like to know more about “bearing shame”. I’d like to understand a bit more about how to do it.

    I am often plagued by sudden awful feelings of shame, embarrassment and anxiety which are usually tied to memories of something I have said or done in the past (often the distant past) which I regret.

    Are these opportunities for “bearing shame”? If so, how do I do it?

  9. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I can only speak of my own experience: I did not choose Jesus, He chose me and I have pretty much dug Mt heals in at every possible time. Still He persists making a shambles of most of my choices.

    Still He draws me and blesses my life in the unexpected and in the small and intimate things. Only God gives the increase.

  10. Monica Avatar
    Monica

    Thank you Father. Nothing seems more helpful and relevant than this.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Tullius,
    Well, we choose to obey the commandments of Christ. That is our “obedience.” And we keep choosing it. And we don’t overblow the other choices (my job, who I marry, etc.). And we accept the fact that lots of our choices are just wrong and we didn’t know better. And that knowledge brings us to the Cross, to our shame, and to the presence of Christ.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Psalti,
    First, we trust in God. None of these events of shame can remove us from His love. His acceptance of us is unconditional. We have nothing to fear. Second, don’t run away or hide. If something like that comes, when you get time, sit down with it. Allow it to be there. Resist the need to fix it. Pray and ask God to comfort you. Be patient. In that patience we can become aware that God is not shaming us or despising us, that He’s still there and nothing has changed. We bear a little, and He makes it possible. If God’s not freaked out by it, why should I be?

    At age 61, and with ADD (which means I have terrible impulse control), the number of stupid things I’ve said and done could shame a nation. It could have crushed me and for a long time it did. When we come before the “dread judgment seat of Christ,” we pray to be “blameless and unashamed.” Every time we “bear a little shame” patiently in the presence of Christ, we have brought ourselves before His dread judgment seat (which is the Cross). And there He judges us. And His judgment is His mercy. We discover that He does not shame us. He covers our nakedness. We no longer need to hide. And then, Elder Sophrony teaches, “God never judges twice.” When it’s done, it’s done. Whew!

  13. Greg Avatar
    Greg

    Speaking personally this particular theme as you have explored it has been immensely helpful to me. So thank you.

    I did want to add a comment: Solovyov in his Justification of the Good argues that shame is what makes us aware of the Good in a uniquely human way. A dense book, it is well worth the time and effort to read.

  14. Psalti Avatar
    Psalti

    Father Freeman,

    You can’t know what a blessing and a comfort you’re response to my question is. Or perhaps, because of you’re own experience you do.

    So much of my life has been a source of regret and shame. It’s so painful at times. Thank you so much for this teaching and your work.

  15. Jessica Avatar
    Jessica

    Thank you for your posts about weakness and shame. They’re getting me through. I don’t understand the practicality of experiencing shame, and I don’t know if I have the courage, but I know I can’t keep the plates spinning anymore.

  16. Athanasios Avatar
    Athanasios

    Second, don’t run away or hide.

    Father, this is incredibly difficult. I struggled with not being able to confess certain sins in my life for a long time. I kept telling myself that I should take it to confession, but continually found myself unable to do so. One day, several years ago, I decided to finally just confess it out loud, when I was alone, to myself. It was incredibly difficult and painful just to do that very small thing. It is sad, I know!

    It was then that I realized that keeping it in my head was still a way for me to hide from my own shame. The shame I experienced simply by speaking out loud was incredibly intense. But it did make it a little easier to finally take it to confession. Still, it is so easy to hide.

    For converts like myself, I cannot extol the benefits of private confession enough (as awkward and uncomfortable as it can be). I can hardly measure such things, but I wonder sometimes if I “experience” more healing in 15 minutes of private confession than many hours of prayer. It seems that way, at least.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Athanasios,
    Indeed. I have been going to confession since I was in college (yes, as an Anglican). That’s nearly 40 years. There’s some things that I only was able to speak about in confession as recently as two or three years ago. Some things are just that deep and toxic. But I can see how important it has been. And this is by no means an encouragement to hurry things along. The process and discipline is there for us. But the wise words of Elder Sophrony, “bear a little,” should be taken to heart. All things in their time.

    I liked your story. And I agree about just saying something out loud to yourself. I’m not surprised at the result. Sometimes the simple realization, “I said that out loud and the world did not end!” is important.

    In the case of some of the great elders, they were able to help their spiritual children by saying out loud for them what they could not say themselves (a clairvoyant gift of sorts coupled with great wisdom). These are common stories in the lives of such people.

  18. Ryan Avatar
    Ryan

    Fr. Stephen,

    What exactly does “a good defense” consist of, before the “dread judgement seat of Christ”?

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ryan,
    Any defense that works. 🙂

    But, seriously, Christ Himself who is our righteousness. Will I be able to plead Christ?

  20. Paul Avatar
    Paul

    I have ADD as well and there is a lot of shame that goes along with that. Which shame needs forgiveness or healing? Driving away with the gas nozzle in the gas tank (accident) or not telling attendant about ripping gas hose from pump (cowardly impulsive choice)? 🙂 I guess I’m saying that some shame isn’t a direct result of our sinful choices. Are we meant to bear that shame as well?

  21. Another Anon Avatar
    Another Anon

    Reminds of the Puritan prayer “Valley of Vision”:

    “Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.”

    (Also beautifully rendered in this print: https://www.etsy.com/listing/214838474/the-valley-of-vision-a-puritans-prayer?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=puritan's%20prayer&ref=sr_gallery_1)

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, Dino, and others in your comment section for the help along this path.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paul,
    If you are experiencing the shame, then it becomes something in which we can find Christ who bears our shame. Shame is not ultimately about choices – it’s how we experience our brokenness and the whole of our human condition. In the light of God’s presence, even our righteousness is as filthy rags. And so we can find hope in our shame as we follow the teaching of the Church and the path that I described.

  23. drewster2000 Avatar
    drewster2000

    By the way, “The Valley of Vision” is also the name of a collection of Puritan prayers (including the one above) edited by Arthur G. Bennett. I’ve seen it on Amazon. It’s one of the few devotionals I’ve really come to appreciate. I would recommend it.

  24. Athanasios Avatar
    Athanasios

    Father, I have one more question. How do we teach our children to bear shame? The only answer I can think of is by bearing shame ourselves. But it is something that I have an inclination to protect my children from, even “talk them up” in situations in which they experience feelings of shame so that they don’t feel that. I (naturally?) want to protect my children from such things.

  25. drewster2000 Avatar
    drewster2000

    Athanasios,

    I have found that teaching children in all things comes by example – and by having a good relationship with them. In a good relationship you ask what is good for the other person. Sometimes it’s to protect them and sometimes it’s to let them encounter things like shame and suffering. Example and relationship is the way God teaches us; we simply imitate Him.

    By the way there really is no fool-proof formula for how to apply these things. It is simply the adventure we call life.

  26. Mark Avatar
    Mark

    Obedience

    I thought of things in rows

    houses and hedges neatly trimmed

    fences and farmlands

    marching in lines

    and doing what I was told.

    I thought of shoes

    in which I could not run

    and clothes

    in which I could not play

    (it was not allowed-they were too good)

    and prayers I prayed

    because I should.

    There were laws and rules and regulations,

    restrictions, legislation;

    things held in, held back, held down

    and not to be held at all.

    Authorities.

    I became circumspect

    and secretive in my heart.

    Then I observed a hawk

    soaring up in circles

    screaming with delight

    rising effortlessly

    on outstretched wings-

    obedient and free.

    And I knew I was a fallen man

    in a fallen world

    and what I longed to be.

  27. Andrew T. Avatar
    Andrew T.

    Are Roman catacomb paintings like this one considered Icons?

  28. tess Avatar
    tess

    Thank you, Mark. Thank you very much.

  29. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Thank you, Father, for your comments!

    Athanasios, I shall try a private confession (aloud). It sounds terribly difficult but very important.

    Concerning teaching children about bearing shame: it occurs to me that children have a tendency to bear shame in silence, hiding it away inside them so no one “sees” it. I think one way to teach them to bear it is teaching them a spoken confession that brings no judgement upon them (from you or others). (But be ready: I’m sure they will expect you to take part)!

    This may also help them to understand that our confessions are relational in spirit and don’t only affect us. Just my thoughts.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Athanasios,
    First, never intentionally shame any child (shaming language is the language of being not doing). We can say, “You should not have done that.” But when we say, “You are a bad person” (there’s lot’s of ways to say this), then it is shame. Language of “You always,” or “You never,” is shame language. Language that says to someone that they are the kind of person who… is shame language. Shame also answers the question, “Who am I?” or “What am I?”

    God does not shame. God covers shame. He never(!) mentions Adam and Eve’s nakedness (their shame). He speaks about what they did and its consequences. Shame language also says, “You are not worth loving.”

    Shaming is murder because it attacks our very existence.

    That said, we must help a child by covering them, by affirming them as a person. They need to understand that doing wrong is wrong and has consequences, but does not make them bad people.

    Now, the truth is that no matter how hard you try to do this, they will still pick up messages of shame from someone (from our adversary if no where else).

    I teach children and adults to bear shame the same way – by affirming the absolute (!) love and acceptance of God, no matter what. There is nothing you can do to change it. The father always welcomes the son home and clothes (!) him. When I hear confessions, particularly the confessions of children, that is the single message – always and at all times. It has to be said a million different ways and repeated always.

    I volunteer each week in a drug and alcohol rehab. Shame is very, very rampant there, and so is a lot of shame-based religion. I cannot tell you the joy and tears in faces as I speak about the uncompromising love and acceptance of God. I feel like Christ in Hades saying, “Let’s get out of here!”

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Andrew,
    Perhaps. More like religious art, and a precursor to icons

  32. Alex Avatar
    Alex

    Interestingly, the idea of bearing negative emotions rather than running away from them or suppressing them is apparently a huge theme in Inside Out. In this case, it’s sadness instead of shame, but it sounds like a similar general idea. The director’s spoken in interviews about our culture’s tendency to run away from sadness and self-medicate for it. I haven’t seen it yet, but this post will definitely be on my mind whenever I do.

  33. Athanasios Avatar
    Athanasios

    Thank you for your reply, Father. It is both helpful and encouraging. My wife and I have approached our role as parents in something of a “pastoral” way (forgive, love, etc.) – what you are saying seems to fit with that. It is just difficult to put all the pieces and ways of speaking together sometimes. Thank you very much for clarify. 🙂

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Athanasios,
    A practice that I occasionally used when my behavior warranted it was to make a prostration to one of my children and ask forgiveness. They learned early on that it’s an important thing to do. Every year on forgiveness Sunday, I weep when my family members make prostrations. There is so much for them to forgive!

  35. Benjamin Avatar
    Benjamin

    Fr. Stephen,

    Your advice in how to talk to children to help them bear their shame and know their love, is probably one of the most meaningful and beautiful things I have read on the subject. For me, it really brought things home. I am a first grade teacher working abroad. It is hard to communicate everything in my heart to my students but they all see my actions and know what is right and wrong even with the language barrier. That barrier creates a lot of confusion and frustration but I pray that my students will see and know God.

    Thank you Father and pray for me a sinner.

  36. Panayiota Avatar
    Panayiota

    Thank you Father, again, thank you. I can pray the 50 Psalm with more clarity.

    I too have an extremely impulsive heart, combined with perfectionism. Bad combination…

    I recently read about how a person was afraid to visit an Orthodox monestery because of what is know as “soul reading.” (I have seen this knowing from monks first hand). He finally gets excited about the idea of being completely revealed, finally, he will be getting a real look at himself.

    Do we ever know the experience of the “natural will?” I feel like I must always be operating under the “gnomic will” even if I am not conscious of it.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Panayiota,
    Yes, we can know the experience of the natural will. But it’s not too common.

  38. Luke Avatar
    Luke

    This was much needed for my soul today! Thank you father.

    I was reminded of this quote:

    “When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

  39. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Fr. Stephen and Everyone,

    Could somebody with a command of French language say something about an expression “embarra de choix”? If I remember right from years ago, this expression is used to just denote “too many choices”… “Google translate” into English gives “embarrassment of choice”, but into Polish, it comes out as “shame of choice”….

  40. tess Avatar
    tess

    Agata,

    Interesting linguistic coincidence! I love those.

    I’ve been learning French for the past few years and the word used for shame is the noun “honte”— if I am ashamed, “J’ai honte”– I have shame.

    The noun “embarras” refers to more of a sense of perplexity or confusion. “J’ai l’embarras du choix” is to be “spoit for choice”– or to have so many choices as to be paralyzed in the act of decision. Literally, “I have an uncertainty of choices”. “Embarass” may also be used as embarrassment, but it doesn’t seem to have the same connotation as honte/shame.

    Hope that helps!

  41. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Fr. Stephen,

    Since you have given us this space to share and support each other in our life in Christ, I would like to share with your readers a “technique” that I was introduced to in therapy. I have found it very powerfully helpful, even if on the surface it looks a bit “new-agey”. If you look into the history of it, you will be amazed at healing it has brought (children in New Town, CT, Rwanda genocide victims, war veterans) .

    The web site is “thetappingsolution.com”.

    Today’s email from the founder, Nick Ortner, had shame for the subject. It has prompted me to share, as not many people know about this Tapping technique (free, painless, simple and extremely effective – not just with shame, but with physical pain, toxic emotions, unhealthy attachments….)

    Nick Ortner:
    “Shame is one of the most disempowering and painful emotions we can feel and experience. It robs us of our energy, our creativity, our will.
    And perhaps one of the reasons it’s most damaging is we rarely admit it to ourselves. Or we admit it and then bury it deep. It’s painful. It doesn’t want to be looked at.
    But when you take a moment, and acknowledge to yourself where and about what you are holding on to shame, your whole life can change.
    It’s time to let it go. Start now”.

  42. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Thank you Tess!

  43. Matt Avatar
    Matt

    ‘Language of “You always,” or “You never,” is shame language. Language that says to someone that they are the kind of person who… is shame language. … God does not shame.’

    Father Stephen, what about those times when Christ calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers, etc.? Should those be treated differently since they constitute “punching up” and the expected result is, even if shame, not the kind of oppressive shame that’s generally associated with abusive always/never language directed at someone who the speaker has worldly power over?

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matt,
    I see those as having a prophetic function. They were also, doubtlessly, accurate.

  45. AR Avatar
    AR

    Father Stephen, thank you for this post. It’s very timely. I’ve been on the edge of Orthodoxy for the past couple of years, constantly thinking about making the jump but just can’t seem to do it. My “other soul” keeps coaxing me from the edge. The last few months have been especially tiring, and I’m almost to the point of turning away completely. But deep in me is the desire for God, and the things I’ve learned from reading your blog (as well as Bishop Kallistos Ware) have been so nourishing. More nourishing than anything I’ve fed on in a long time. It’s very wearying being tugged back and forth. Any prayers would be much appreciated.

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    AR,
    May God give you grace. The seven years of my conversion were among the most brutal inner struggles of my life. But, it was doubtless for my salvation. God give you grace!

  47. […] assertion that we have a capacity for purity of heart in our nature.  We do.  But as Fr. Freeman has explained, we have become alienated from our own nature due to sin.  It is the Lord who sets us […]

  48. Jane Avatar
    Jane

    Fr. Stephen,
    Is the Orthodox understanding of the natural will comparable to the voice of the Self in Jungian psychology?

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jane,
    Not really, though there are elements of the Self that have some similarity. Jung tends not to translate so well into authentic Christian thought, I have found.I read a lot of him in college until I kept finding false leads and dead ends. I once attended a Jungian conference when I was a young Anglican priest. It was one of the weirdest gatherings I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to some strange places). Today, I leave it alone.

  50. Catherine Avatar
    Catherine

    Dear father, thank you.
    I have a question that has been torturing me.

    I stand at the edge of making a life decision, and sometimes I am terrified by not being in control of where it will lead. I try to place it at Christ’s feet.

    Often I hear the phrase “God will show … if you do want to let Him help / if you do want Him to interfere in your life”. Or the example in the Bible, where Christ asks “do you want to get healthy?” before he performs a miracle.

    Father, how do I know if I really want? If that will is not evident even where it seems to be evident (such as in the case of the paralysed man), how can *I* know?? Maybe I don’t want. But I want to want, I need to want!! It drags me to the ground, it fills me with despair.
    But I refuse to believe that God would let me “get lost” because of the impurity of my will. He knows my limits, He knows that I want it as much as I am capable of wanting it at the moment. He sees my struggle and my intention. Isn’t that right? God’s mercy can’t be dependent on my brokenness in such a way. Right?

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Catherine,
    May God give you grace in such a time. We are not saved by these life choices. We may or may not “get them right.” And sometimes, “getting it right,” is very unclear – thus it is hard to know what to do and we feel tortured.

    The key, “I am terrified by not being in control of where it will lead.” The real choice is right there. The choice is to give yourself and your life to Christ. We have to trust that He will care for us regardless of our choices. You are focusing on the “choice.” But Christ Himself is the real choice.

  52. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Catherine,
    as a rule, when we can’t take a decision, make a decisive choice, the decision takes itself for us. We can therefore trust that God is even in the wrong decision. I might suffer “paralysis by analysis” and clearly take the wrong decision (say between choosing a life of devoted celibacy as a monastic or of marriage and remaining ‘in the world’). The wrong decision could be to remain in the world (i.e.: no decision taken equals this) or I might do the opposite and discover that it wasn’t right for some unforeseen reason – a plethora of these could seem valid at a later stage…

    What is important is what I do with the situation I then find myself. The situation is secondary. The way I deal with it in Christ is what matters. Christ the Way -my purification- must be the aim in any context we find ourselves, Christ the Truth -my illumination- must be our aim, Christ the Life -my deification- must be our objective.

    Fr Lev Gillet spoke on this like this:

    Whatever the problem may be, whether it be one of the lofty questions of the spiritual order or one of the simplest everyday problems, by embracing Jesus, by uniting ourselves more intimately to Him, we arrive at a solution.
    That does not dispense us either from reflection or from the appropriate methods, but our thinking will do its work in the light of Christ.

    Some concrete problem confronts me – a serious decision to make, a difficult interview, a letter to write, personal relations, professional duties, etc. – O Lord, what ought I do?

    “My child, first of all, unite yourself to Me. Be assured that in Me your personal problem is resolved. If you really see Me, you shall see the solution through Me, as it were transparently. Do make use of your reasoning powers, but in My light and depending on My heart.”

  53. Catherine Avatar
    Catherine

    Thank you father, thank you Dino (what a wonderful quote!). I’m smiling. It’s so easy to drift away from The real Choice, while believing that you aren’t. Father, I just read your new piece, “Have You Lost Your Soul?”, too. I could literally feel my psychologised self protesting. Glory to God!

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