Q&A: What do I do when I don’t feel like striving anymore? I know I’m supposed to, but it’s brutal.
What an honest question.
You’re right, sometimes friends and counsellors or others sometimes emphasise the need for us to strive. Often we know that we need to strive, but the issue is not knowing it, the issue is sometimes simply getting through it.
a) Where there’s purpose, find it.
Think of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt. I don’t imagine it was pleasant for them to go to a different country on a night’s notice. They were not rich by anyone’s reckoning, they didn’t know Egyptian, they didn’t have relatives there, and they were treated really badly most of the time. There are stories of people who refused them food, refused them lodging, and left them out in the cold.
What made the striving bearable was the understanding of the necessity of the situation. If they didn’t flee Israel, the baby would die. It was as simple as that. No beautiful words or soliloquies could change that reality.
So sometimes, we have to simply lock into the necessity without philosophising on anything else. Step out, look at the big question of “why”, and then do what is needed for that why. Stopping to overly analyse will only add to your despair or make you focus energy somewhere not helpful to your plight. Imagine if the Family decided it wasn’t worth it, or “what if instead we just tried such and such”. Things would have been very different. Imagine if you are running for your life, and you stop to ask why you cannot have pizza right now like those people at the restaurant. Not the right time, keep running.
I guess that leads one to understand that sometimes the striving is actually the safest place to be.
b) When there’s no purpose or injustice, live in the present moment.
Here, I think of Joseph. Sure, he was really annoying to his brothers, and sure, he was spoiled. Being thrown into a pit, however, was still an injustice. Being sold as a slave was an even greater injustice. Being imprisoned for refusing to commit adultery with his boss’ wife, however, is egregiously unfair. Yet, we are not presented with a murmuring, angry young man. Instead, we find someone successful all the time.
I’m not using this example to irritate you, but only to say taht many of us in his position would be talking mostly about how unfair it was to go through all of this without doing anything wrong. Most of us would have given up on this God. Most of us would think, forget this, it’s not worth it. Here I am in jail while corrupt people are rich and having the time of their lives. He didn’t.
I think it’s because he lived in the moment. He had hope, yes, but he also made the most of each day. He couldn’t have gotten all these promotions, even in jail, simply by moping. Happiness will not come to us while wishing we were somewhere else, or that we had something else. Happiness will not come until you make wherever you are, where you want to be.
c) Don’t misdirect blame.
Psalm 137 (By the rivers of Babylon…), is all about the sadness of exile, of even being taunted during the hard times. What is not in the psalm, however, is blame. There is no blame, because the Israelites knew it was their fault. It was their own negligence and contempt that led to their captivity, not the ill-will of anyone else.
I will not dwell on this one, because I do not want to dwell on negativity or blame, but just to say, careful not to be angry at something that you might have caused. If you did cause it, relax, the captivity comes to an end. Keep your eyes on the opportunity for an escape.
d) Keep friends close, tell them to keep their sermons to themselves, but talk about it if you need
These periods are not often healthy to go through alone. Isolation can make anyone go mad who has not been trained in dealing with his or her own thoughts. This warfare is particularly seen in monastic circles, when a disciple will be tormented by his thoughts, especially of despair, and the smallest of thoughts can be amplified exponentially.
When David was being pursued by Saul, he took solace in his friendship with Jonathan. When our Lord went through the agony in the garden, He took three of His closes friends with Him, and yes, He called them friends. When Saint Moses was afflicted by thoughts night and day, he kept going back to his spiritual guide.
So, expose your thoughts, do not let them boil inside of you until you explode or doing something irrational. Talk about it with someone from whom you have no fear of judgment or ridiculing or belittling. These people do exist. Whether it’s a spiritual father, mother, spouse, sibling, close friend, whoever it is that can give you some respite, take them up on it. I say this in the context of letting things out, but I do not suggest taking advice from just anyone either.
Call in your friends. Let your friends know that you might be a bummer to be around and that you thank them in advance for accepting it. If you don’t need a sermon from them, let them know. Tell them that sometimes the comfort doesn’t come from words, it comes from the companionship. Job’s friends were probably really annoying when they were talking, but at the same time, it was probably a solace that they came at all to him when he smelled gross, was miserable, and his wife was in the corner cursing God. Not every friend is willing to put up with all of that, so use your friends, that’s what they’re there for.
e) Find love.
The thing that can give meaning to any suffering, is love. Love is what carried soldiers through war, that carries mothers through labour, that allows caregivers to give invalids…it’s what allowed our Lord Jesus to surrender Himself to death.
Love is self-sacrifice. The more we are able to give to others during our times of self-pity, the stronger we are in combatting our feelings of contempt or our feeling that we cannot endure longer. My sister told me the remarkable story once of a friend of hers who lost her child. She did not just lose her child, she went through the torture of so many surgeries, so much false hope about the child’s recovery, teetering from day to day about which day might be the child’s last…That’s a pain that I cannot even begin to fathom. That is a striving that I do not think I could personally endure.
Yet, this woman and her husband give love to their family, they bring joy to others, and they serve. Humans are relational, if you are not able to find a way to direct this love towards God Himself, do not despair. Do it to others in the name of Christ. He already said that everyone is Him, so tell Him, I’m loving this person in Your Name. I will give myself to others even in my pain. You will soon find your own therapy in the person or persons that you are serving. In doing this, you are learning the highest honour, martyrdom: because greater love has no man than this, but that He lay his life down for his friends (John 15:13).
Strife has a way of transforming us into loving and real human beings – if we allot it to do so.
I really mean this. We scoff at it, but we rarely do it. Turn every sigh, every groan, every fit, every outburst, everything – turn it into prayer. Our Lord did this when He was in agony, the prophets, the apostles and the saints did this, and all of them found solace. If you talk to everyone but Him about your problems, you have not gotten a chance to have a dialogue.
And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee (Psalm 50:15)
Put some effort into this. Try it out. If you do not know how, then ask.
g) Do stuff, don’t just let yourself drown.
The analogy I will use here is not Biblical, but I like it. I think of someone who is on a ship at sea, and a storm comes and the ship is in great peril. Is there reason to panic? Of course. So shout, scream, sound alarms, and make as much noise as you can. That is wise. What would be unwise, however, is to not take the measures and steps needed to keep you from drowning in the meantime. Throw heavy cargo off the boat if that is helpful, do whatever is necessary to the sails, get your life jacket on in case you’re thrown overboard, do whatever you need to do to ensure survival for the longest amount of time, until you either cannot do anything anymore, or help comes. I know it’s hard to believe sometimes, but “at night there may be weeping, but in the morning joy” (Psalm 30:5), there’s a great calm after a terrible storm.
There is way more that could be said – like reading stories of people with whom you can relate, different methods of thinking and various other things. But these are the things that came first to mind. Feel free to holler back if these are not what you are looking for, because there are a plethora of other things that one can do to get through things. I will close with one last piece of advice from the desert fathers, encouraging us to finish the strife in order to be transformed:
A certain elder said, “We often fail to advance because we know not the conditions of our strife, nor have we patience to complete the work we have begun. No virtue can be attained without toil.”