One Good Thought: On Malice During Lent

“If our purpose is to fight the spiritual fight and to defeat, with God’s help, the demons of malice, we should take every care to guard our heart from the demon of dejection, just as a moth devours clothing and a worm devours wood, so dejection devours a man’s soul. It persuades him to shun every helpful encounter and stops him accepting advice from his true friends or giving them a courteous and peaceful reply. Seizing the entire soul, it fills it with bitterness and listlessness.
+St. John Cassian

Saint John Cassian warns us that if we want to struggle against malice (the desire to do things that are wrong) then we should be wary of dejection- feeling disheartened or downcast.

Remember when you were tempted to do something wrong, but you didn’t do it. Did the world applaud you or did everything kind of go on the same as always–indifferent to your struggle and victory? Maybe you even noticed that others, who went right ahead and did this same wrong thing, seemed to end up better off than you did.

That experience can cause us to begin to feel a little discouraged- was resisting temptation really worth it? Why bother?

Maybe there was a different time in your life when you tried to not do something wrong, but ended up doing it anyway. This kind of experience can be even more discouraging, but either experience might sow seeds of dejection.

Saint Cassian wrote that dejection leads to bitterness and listlessness. Bitterness is when we blame others for things they may or may not have done and then we stay mad at them. Listlessness starts a cycle of not getting things done which leads to more failures (like not cleaning your room leads to not being able to find something in a hurry). Dejection increases feelings of sadness inside us. Sometimes, we can get used to those feelings and think they are the “real us”. We forget that dejection is an emotion which gives us false ideas about ourselves and others. We forget that God’s love and grace surround us and that He has sent other people into our lives to comfort and encourage us.

Lent is a beautiful opportunity for us to be together as a church. Going to the services, praying, fasting, and almsgiving are all ways to experience “bright sadness”.

Bright sadness is a way that God grows healing in our hearts by turning our sadness into joy- not by making it all better but by helping us to feel His love and grace in all parts of our lives- failures and successes, good times and the hardest times.

Through His grace, encouragement replaces dejection. The repetitive, somber, and long Lenten services give us a healthy way to express and feel the sadness and disappointments which we each experience. The services of Lent are designed to meet us in our heartbreak and lift us up to the greatest joy of life–God’s love for us and our salvation through Him–Pascha.

Lord, as I begin my Lenten journey help me to remember that spiritual struggles are struggles and that these battles are not easily won. Help me to open my heart to the people in my life who love me and offer me encouragement and to let them be Your hands in my life.

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