How to Conduct Ourselves in Happiness and Misfortune

How to Conduct Ourselves in Happiness

When you are happy, that is, when everything in life is going according to your wishes: you are healthy, your wife, your children, and your family is healthy, your neighbors like you, all your affairs are going well, you are satisfied and do not feel need, then every morning and every evening thank the Lord God from your whole soul for all of this and be very careful not to be ungrateful to Him. Everyone recognizes as vile those who are ungrateful to other people; even more so should we acknowledge as vile those who are ungrateful to the Lord God. The holy Apostle numbers the ingratitude of people among the vices of the people of the last time (II Timothy 3:2), that is, of the most depraved time.

In using your earthly well-being with gratitude, never forget that the Lord God grants us to live happily on earth not so that we might only rejoice and be glad, but so that we, feeling the goodness of God, might be grateful to the Lord God, that is, do nothing displeasing to Him, and if we were to do something displeasing to Him, we should offer repentance, for “the goodness of God leadeth thee,” says the holy Apostle to the fortunate of the world, not to amusements and a self-willed life, but to repentance (Romans 2:3,4). “God shows you His mercy so that you will stop sinning. If you do not stop sinning, then your punishment will be terrible,” says St. John Chrysostom. Whoever forgets about this purpose of God’s goodness concerning earthly blessings becomes comfortably attached to earthly prosperity with all his heart and, indulging only his worldly passions, forgets God and forgets eternal blessedness and his soul. And what will happen to his soul? Friend, consider! Its fate will be terrible!

Therefore, in making use of earthly well-being, avoid becoming attached to it in your heart; that is, do not fall in love with the joys and comforts that your earthly well-being can and does afford you. Your heart should cleave completely only to the Lord God. Never forget His words, filled with love, spoken through the Most wise Solomon: give me, son, your heart (Proverbs 23:26). Do not forget: be obedient. All the joys and comforts of your earthly well-being are worldly joys and comforts, and the holy apostle absolutely forbids us to love the world and that which is in it, because whoever loves the world lacks what is central and most necessary for true well-being, namely love for the Lord God, for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, according to the holy apostle (I John 2:15).

So that is may be easier to protect yourself from love of the joys and comforts of your earthly well-being, act as the saints acted. While making use of earthly blessings, they ceaselessly remembered and signed for the heavenly blessings. You should act that way too. Accustom yourself to remember heavenly bliss as often as possible and say, “Lord, if it is so good for me under your shelter even on earth, what will it be like in heaven? Thy kingdom come.” Or “Lord, You gladden me so much on earth. Deprive me not of Thy heavenly joy.” Or “Lord, how much consolation Your boundless goodness gives my soul. Do not allow it in this consolation somehow to fall asleep in sin.” Or, “O Lord, how great is your goodness to me, and how foolish I am. How little I love You. What little zeal I have to root out of myself various vices, but especially my favorite sin. Enlighten me. Awaken me. Set me on the path of salvation. Have mercy on me and save me.”

When you feel that, in making use of your earthly well-being, you lose your bearings somewhat, then pray with all your soul to the Lord God, that He might have the kindness to draw your heart more firmly to Himself and that He might prefer to deprive you of all your well-being if it threatened to draw your heart away from Him and destroy your soul; for it is incomparably better to endure on earth not only every kind of deprivation, but even the worst tortures, than to lose God and to suffer eternally.

How to Conduct Ourselves in Misfortune

When you are struck by some kind of misfortune: infamy, persecution, poverty, domestic turmoil, and so on, whether from other people, or from the circumstances of your life, or from the circumstances of nature, never give yourself over to immoderate sorrow, fear, grumbling, or despair, because St. Basil the Great says that the Most Wise and All-Good Master sends us each earthly misfortune for our benefit and precisely that we might be partakers of his holiness, as the holy Apostle affirms (Heb. 12:10).

On the contrary, when any misfortune befalls you, and you feel guilty of something, then immediately imagine the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and cry out to Him with all your heart, “All-Merciful Lord, double, triple, or increase my grief tenfold, but do not allow me to perish in sin. What do all my temporary misfortunes matter, compared to eternal torments?” Or, “My Lord and God! You suffered incomparably more for me than I can suffer, but You, being Most Pure, suffered completely innocently and suffered moreover without the slightest complaint or ill will, but I have merited much more misfortune, so can I grumble at my present misfortune? Have mercy on me. Teach me. Grant me zeal to correct myself, and strengthen me in this zeal. Have mercy on me and save me.”

If, when misfortune befalls you, you feel that you are innocent, thank the Lord God with all your heart that He, as we must think without any doubt, desires by the misfortune sent you or permitted for you to preserve you from something disastrous for the salvation of your soul, “because joy make the soul frivolous, haughty, and inconstant,” says Chrysostom. In the present life, in times of good fortune, we all give ourselves over very easily to vainglory, pride, luxury, love of sensual pleasure, and other vices so that often it is very difficult to teach us and bring us into true self-awareness while our good fortune continues. Therefore the holy Apostle says, we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Imagining this, say to the Lord God: “My Creator and Savior! You Yourself came to earth not for joy, but for suffering, and told us, Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater that his lord (John 15:20). I will endure everything to which Your right hand may subject me. It is all-good, and what else can I expect from it but true good for my soul? Thy will be done in all things. Have the kindness to fortify me, so that I, not forgetting You and my soul, will remain completely grateful and submissive towards Your every command, as once did Your devoted servant Job” (Job 1:13-22).

Act this way, no matter whence your misfortune may come: from hostile people or from the elements, from wild animals or from livestock, and so on, because your misfortune really comes not from them, but from God. Nothing ever happens to us without God’s will or without His consent. God is king of all the earth, the holy prophet says (Psalms 46:7). There shall not an hair of your head perish without the will of your Father, the Lord Himself tell us (Luke 21:18). All the saints of all time understood it this way. When our primordial enemy took from the much-suffering Job his property and his children, he did not say “the devil took this away from me”; he said, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away (Job 1:21). Take note of this and act this way too. Patience is a most salvific quality. Behold, we count them happy which endure, the holy apostle says (James 5:11).

Source: How to Live a Holy Life, Metropolitan Gregory (Postnikov) of St. Petersburg (1784-1860). Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York: 2005.

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