Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Demon of Despair

I woke up this morning already in a state of defeat: tired, flu-ish, resentful of the lesson planning and correcting I need to do, which will keep me from my novel. Child #4 could not find his shoes and almost missed the bus. I made him pancakes and sausage, but he only had time to eat a few bites. I’m afraid I’m teaching him negative self-talk every time I express my exasperation. I’m trying to hold it in check and speak positively to him. He’s just a little boy and he’s certainly just as scattered as I can be. I should be working with Child #3 (homeschooled) on grammar or spelling. The math tutor will be here in 40 minutes. Ah! He tells me he is working on his math assignment. He has spent the last several days working on a novel and I’ve let the basic stuff slide. It’s good that he’s working on a novel. And I’ve been depressed.

When we struggle against demonic thoughts, the struggle will be considered as a martyrdom. This is because one suffers a great deal when evil thoughts attack, and God, seeing the toil and pain of his soul, considers it to be a martyrdom.
—Elder Ephraim of the Holy Mountain

Depression, despair and despondency can only be demonic. They do not carry with them any impulse towards the good, rather, they slow the mind, cloud the thinking. There is a prayer to the Theotokos that I used to pray every day. It goes:

O my most holy lady Theotokos, through thy holy and all-powerful prayers, banish from me, thy lowly and wretched servant, despondency, forgetfulness, folly, carelessness and all filthy, evil and blasphemous thoughts from my wretched heart and my darkened mind. And quench the flame of my passions, for I am poor and wretched, and deliver me from many and cruel memories and deeds, and free me from all their evil effects. For blessed art thou by all generations, and glorified is thy most honorable name unto the ages of ages. Amen

That’s a lot of “wretcheds” and I may talk about that later, but what struck me was that I was praying against despondency. I think I gave despondency an almost holy glow when I was younger. It was such a constant companion and it seemed to remind me of what a miserable, sinful creature I was and how much I needed God.

What salt is for any food, humility is for every virtue. To acquire it, a man must always think of himself with contrition, self-belittlement, and painful self-judgment. But if we acquire it, it will make us sons of God.
—Isaac the Syrian

To be fair, I should read about Isaac the Syrian before I say this. Perhaps he struggled with grandiosity and arrogance and so needed to balance himself in this way. But for me, finding ways to belittle myself has never been a problem. And painful self-judgment has come as naturally as breathing. In fact, self-belittlement and self-judgment can become a form of pride. A person who walks around belittling himself will find that his friends eventually become less patient.

What I’m trying to get at is that I cannot let despair sink its teeth into me. I cannot live in a state of defeat. If struggling against this is a form of prayer or martyrdom, let it be my prayer. It is a heavy weight that bears down on me, a demon on my back I must throw off. It is a gray mist that comes in the night so that I am completely enveloped by morning. I will not give in to it. I will not.

Blessed art thou o Lord our God, King of the Universe who hallows this day, who hallows our work, who hallows our minds and bodies, who hallows each minute.

I am living in holy time. Time, even though God is outside of it, is holy. If God is outside of time, he also permeates each moment. If each moment is a drop of God then I can be drenched in them and not be afraid. The time does not slip away as we think it does.

But I do think it does! That’s what is bothering me today. My friend has cancer. I can’t even go see him because I’ll make him sick with my flu. His cancer has moved from his lungs into his bones and it was only diagnosed last week. Whenever someone gets cancer I am immobile. I slip quietly away. It is too huge for me. I can’t avoid my friend’s cancer. I can’t pretend someone else will take care of him and be a sister to him because he wants me to be that sister and if I turn away he will know.

How can God be in each minute and there be so few of them! Why do we live in this seeming finity? Why were we called to exist inside of time during this life? What could be good about that?

I don’t know how to throw the demon off my back unless I scratch and kick and fight. I will pulverize this demon of despair, but I will not be able to do so without facing the finite. I will never get to the infinite until I have come to terms with the finite. And I can’t come to terms with the finite without facing death: my own, my friend’s, my parents’, my husband’s, my children’s.

And if I face death, how will I live? How will it change me? How will it affect the moments I live within? I am afraid.

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