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Encouraging Words

As a kid growing up in Kansas the song “Home on the Range” was common in our region’s musical repertoire. I do remember, however, being somewhat puzzled about that seldom heard “discouraging word” in the chorus. All that stuff about the buffalo roaming and the deer and antelope playing made sense to me. But what was so bad about “a discouraging word”?

Now that I am older I think I understand. Age combined with the daily experience of human frailty has taught me just how discouraging a word can be. And discouragement, particularly in the pursuit of spiritual life, can be deadly. Which of us, after falling into the same old sin for the hundredth time, has not heard a discouraging word telling us to give up, throw away faith, and abandon hope? And if we listen to that word we will, in short order, be stuck in a swamp of despair and despondency.

And so we need another word, an encouraging word. Lucky for us the Church already has this figured out. Someone has been down this road before us and knows both the roads that end in the swamp and those that lead to springs of life. We call that Tradition, the wisdom of our spiritual ancestors, the saints. And in the wisdom of the Tradition we begin the day with Morning Prayers, among which is this simple yet profound prayer to the Holy Trinity for the start of the day:

Having risen from sleep, I thank Thee,

the Holy Trinity. In the abundance of

Thy kindness and long patience,

Thou hast not been angry with me

for my laziness and sinfulness, nor hast

Thou destroyed me in my lawlessness.

Instead, in Thy usual love for mankind,

Thou hast raised me as I lay in despair,

that I might rise early and glorify

Thy Reign. Enlighten now the eyes of

my mind and open my lips,

that I might learn of Thy words,

understand Thy commandments,

accomplish Thy will, hymn Thee in

heart-felt confession and praise Thine

all-holy name, the Father and the Son,

and the Holy Spirit, now and ever

and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I can think of fewer more encouraging words than that! “Thou hast not been angry with me...nor hast Thou destroyed me” because of my laziness, sinfulness, and lawlessness. On the contrary, the very fact that God has raised me to another day is proof of His “abundance of...kindness and long patience.”

This prayer puts us in mind of that fig tree in the Gospel of Luke which, year after year, produced no fruit. At last the owner of the vineyard said, “Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” But the keeper of the vineyard said, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.”

Each new day is a sign and proof that God has not abandoned us or forsaken us but rather has given us one more “year”, another season, to bear fruit. And this is why, brothers and sisters, along with never falling into the morass of despair, we should never grow tired of hearing the call to repentance. For the very fact that we are being called to repentance, to turn again to God, is proof of life. As St Peter says it in his second epistle, we must“consider that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation.”

With love in Christ,

Fr John

“Give me a word!”

Therefore, don’t despair when you fall, but get up eagerly and do a metanoia saying, “Forgive me, my dear Christ. I am human and weak.” The Lord has not abandoned you....

So every time you fall, get up again and at once seek forgiveness. Don’t hide sorrow in your heart, because sorrow and despondency are the joy of the evil one. They fill one’s soul with bitterness and give birth to many evils. Whereas the frame of mind of someone who repents says, “I have sinned! Forgive me Father!” and he expels the sorrow. He says, “Am I not a weak human? So what do I expect?” Truly, my child this is how it is. So take courage.

-Elder Joseph the Hesychast

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