Today is a “go to your cell, and your cell will tell you everything” day. But it took me years to discover what I was supposed to be doing in that cell, and I thought if I opened the door a crack, it might give others a greater insight into some of the common dynamics to cell dwelling.
Yesterday I had a meeting that pushed my buttons. Badly. I did not realize how angry I was until I was half-way home. The rest of the day I was withdrawn (down and in) and snappy (down and in when it makes its way out.) This morning I awoke under a cloud of despair. Despair is on the far side of sloth. Sloth says, “Life is too hard and God is not here for me right now.” Despair says, “Life is always going to be too hard and God won’t be there for me at all.”
As you may recall, I suggest that the way out of soul trouble is to look up to God and allow him to shine his light into my heart. This morning, I sat before the Lord, praying morning prayer when I realized that I was being tempted. I was not long in determining that this temptation was not of the world—those temptations confront me with discontent, covetousness, or fear of censure. And it wasn’t a temptation that arose from within me. My soul is too full of living hope for despair of this magnitude to be emanating from within me. If the issue was a compulsive need for comfort—or several other recurring struggles—I would know my unruly flesh as temptation’s source. Part of cell discipline is beginning to know one’s own soul well enough to discern when a temptation is coming from within or without. But no, this temptation was straight from the devil. I am being tempted to un-life, to lay down and give up the struggle to live, let alone live abundantly. “When the devil lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father oflies” (John 8:45). To be tempted by despair that God will not continue to give me, in each moment, what I need, is a lie straight from the pit.
Once I could see the source of the temptation, I did not first confess any sin, rather I leaned into my baptismal vows: Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? I renounce them. “Let all who love the Lord hate evil” (Psalm 97:10) always surfaces in my soul when I renounce the enemy’s power to tempt me. This foe who accuses us before the Father day and night is to be hated, not feared. His delight is in our destruction, but he can do nothing but distort and twist what God has made good.
I am constantly amazing at the power of renunciation, when I realign myself with the truth of my life in Christ. I do not belong to Satan, the world or my own unchecked appetites and passions. And standing up straight on the inside, centered again in the reality that I live in Christ and he lives in me releases me from inordinate power this temptation has over me.
There is more that is happening in my cell today, and I will write more for tomorrow. But I want to leave this blog with an observation by Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemman,
The terrible truth is that overwhelming majority of Christians simply do not see the presence and action of Satan in the world, and, therefore, feel no need to renounce “his works and his service. “They are blind to the fact that the ‘demonic’ consists primarily in falsification and counterfeit, in deviating even positive values from their true meaning, in presenting black as white and visa versa, in a subtle and vicious lie” (Alexander Schmemman, Of Water and the Spirit).