When I try, things get harder. Why bother?

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Q: Every time I find some resolve to begin to work on my spiritual life, I find that things get difficult. Instead of feeling like God “has my back” so to speak, I feel like my problems increase. I don’t just mean spiritual temptations (although that’s happening as well), I mean both spiritual temptations and things in the world. School goes bad, friendships get rocked, I don’t know, problems increase, and I can’t help but wonder if this is worth it. I guess the question is, what do I do when I feel like this?

Response:

“My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord,  prepare yourself for temptation. Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity.” (Sirach 2:1-2)

Welcome to spiritual life.

Note the words “don’t be hasty in time of calamity” – don’t be hasty to run, don’t be hasty to evaluate, don’t be hasty to draw conclusions. Slow down, and step out of the picture, and let’s look at it from the outside.

As you reenter the spiritual life, you need to realise that what you are entering into is a battlefield. There are several aspects to this battle:

– The Commander
– The point/mission of the war
– The army you fight with
– You as a soldier
– The enemy

For all intents and purposes of your question, we’ll focus mostly on you as a soldier and some aspects of your enemy.

First of all, when you enter into a battle, instead of wallowing in defeat or deciding not to fight, do you think that the enemy is going to be content with your decision? He is not going to be elated that you have decided to “rise up from the sleep of laziness” (as we say in the Compline player) and say, “Great job, son, I’m so glad you came out to fight! I think I’ll leave you alone now!” He is not. Your enemy is going to be asking, “Why did that guy get up? Quick, take him down!”

In this regard, you must realise that the enemy will use everything at his disposal. Look at famous military battles. Did every army try and destroy the other army by only violence? No. They used many tactics. They would look at the geography of an enemy and see how they could use nature on their side, trapping them by cliffs or cornering them into deadly positions. Other armies would use tactics to prevent food and supplies from arriving to their enemy so that they would starve and die, or at least starve enough to the point of weakness so that they would fall if they fought. Still others would wear scary clothing and try and intimidate their enemies into defeat. These, among many others, are all ‘devices’ the enemy may use.

By exhausting you with various trials, the enemy is using the same tactics. He is trying to fatigue you, to make you ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” He’s taking you to the ‘point/mission’ of the war in a different way, by making you feel like the fight is not worth it, which is why before you enter the battlefield, you need the conviction that you are fighting for what is right. You need to know what the war is and why we are fighting it. Nobody likes to lose precious lives. So, understand that the warfare – whether appearingly spiritual or secular – serves the same purpose, he wants you to either surrender, mutiny, or despair. He wants you dead. If you surrender, he’ll parade you around to the rest of your army to weaken their morale as well. But one thing is certain, the enemy ain’t your friend. He doesn’t dislike you; he hates you. He will not always fight you in obvious ways. Be vigilant and do not trust the enemy! You may not even recognise him, so ask those experienced in the battle for help.

I would like to caution you, though, to another aspect that you should consider. Don’t blame all the warfare on the enemy. Without a doubt, the enemy is attacking you, but you also need to consider yourself in the context of the war. This is the “you as a soldier” bit of the war. That is, as a soldier, you are not born valiant. As a soldier, you do not come to superior skill in a single moment. You don’t enter the battlefield with the strength of Heracles of old. You start at the bottom and you work your way up. The relevance of this, is that you may be making mistakes and blaming it on the enemy. For example, maybe you have poor form, and got injured. Maybe you were so intent on attacking or defending in a particular way that you didn’t realise you were weakening yourself somewhere else. Maybe you cared so much about building strength that you forgot to build endurance. The point is, there are things that a soldier has to do for his own benefit that are his own personal responsibility. If that soldier does not attend to them, he may attribute fault to the wrong party, and then wallow in self-pity or get injured, instead of improving. This is one of the reasons why having a coach is imperative. You need that person on the outside who is able to point out with you, how to get up and fight better – it’s a positive thing, not a critical thing.

So rather than be upset, recognise your reality as a good thing. For a period, you have learned theory from the comfort of your own house. You heard of concepts, you liked them, you read nice stories of courageous heroes, but now you are entering the actual battlefield yourself. What you received as grace you must now fight for with conviction- with His grace, you will garner strength, you will grow.

Don’t ask, “where is He?”, because He’s your commander. He’s already on the battlefield. He’s battling for you and with you, but you have to work with Him. He told you already, you will have tribulations, but I have overcome the world. He told us to put on our armour and fight! Yes, your adversary is like a lion, but take confidence:

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.

Psalm 84:11

Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid, the Lord goes with you every step in the way. Pick up your armour and fight the good fight, run the race and don’t look back.