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How do I deal with the Spiritual passion of Despondency?

How do I deal with the Spiritual passion of Despondency?

July 11, 2023


In our last video we discussed what the passion of Acedia – or despondency – does to the person suffering from it. How it can completely paralyze our spiritual growth and introduce even more warfare from other passions. And now it’s time for us to ask, “how do we deal with it”. So, without further a due, let’s get right into it.

 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

How do we deal with the passion of despondency, and what can be done in order to overcome this form of spiritual warfare? In our previous video on this subject we saw together how despondency – also known as Acedia – is the passion that the enemy uses to attempt to put us in a state of slothfulness, boredom, discouragement, and even disgust and dissatisfaction. This specific passion wants to paralyze and incapacitate the human being from taking action. So how to we fight back and overcome this passion? Let’s begin by acknowledging for just a moment just how serious this warfare is.

In the book of Sirach, we are forewarned and told, “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity.” (Sirach 2:1-2)

This passage can be understood to tell us that when we decide to take the spiritual life seriously, and when we dedicate ourselves to being in a relationship with God, the devil will surely put us in his sight and will want to tear us down. And as we have seen, despondency is one of the ‘biggest and baddest’ weapons he has in his arsenal. And because it can stir up many other passions, its solution is not simply the acquisition of a virtue, but rather requires our full attention. We must be sober minded and watchful to properly grapple with this demon.

 

When studying what the fathers of the desert have to teach us on the subject, we realize that the solution offered to us requires three important steps, as well as three spiritual qualities.

Let’s begin with the steps:

1- Step 1: Be aware of the warfare and identify the lie that the devil is trying to sell you. For instance, the devil may be tempting you by suggesting thoughts like “you need to be around people”, or “turn to your phone for entertainment”, or even “smoke this or drink that in order to take the edge off…”. Other times the thoughts intend to instill doubt. The devil may make statements such as “why bother praying, it’s useless, God’s not listening…” or “you’re too tired to read your Bible, read it tomorrow when your focused and more awake…” You see my beloved, when we know the lie, we can reject it. When we anticipate that the enemy is trying to trip us up, we will know to look for his traps. And we must absolutely be watchful to recognize his deception.

2- Step 2: We need longsuffering and perseverance to endure the rounds of temptation. All too often we give in to the thought after only a few attempts of rejecting it. We throw in the towel way too early. Rather than being persistent in our attempt to fight off the attacker, we accept defeat prematurely simply out of fatigue or despair. St Isaac the Syrian encourages us to realize that it’s in our endurance that we will receive victory. Here is an example where he is speaking to monastics who would rather flee and be with people than remain in solitude with God. Listen to his encouragement to them in pushing them to endure and be persistent:

“The health and healing of the man whose soul has become darkened [by acedia] comes to him from [silence and solitude]. Therein lies his consolation. No one finds the light of consolation in the company of others, nor has anyone been healed by the relations he maintains with them. Acedia leaves him but for a moment, so as to assail him afterwards with greater violence. Blessed is he who endures such temptations by remaining in his cell.” [St Isaac the Syrian – Ascetical Homilies 57.]

We also ought to learn to practice this form of endurance – to long suffer and to trust that in our persistence and perseverance the Lord will send grace and victory.

3- Step 3: And finally, we need the council of our spiritual councilor and/or father of confession. Despondency is not a passion that is fought off easily. Nor is it easy to self-diagnose. To attempt to fight it off alone without the spiritual coaching and support of an elder and spiritual mentor would be unwise. Just as a person who is severely sick depends on physicians and nurses to help him recover and regain health, the Church offers us our fathers the priests and servants as those who can guide and support us. We need to seek this council and help. It’s for this reason that we need consistent meetings and follow up with our spiritual guides. Everyone in the Church, from the youngest child to the eldest clergyman, we all require an experienced spiritual teacher who will help us in our journey towards vanquishing this type of warfare.

 

We’ve taken the time to describe the three steps to dealing with despondency, lets now talk about three elements or spiritual qualities that are required for us to succeed. These three virtues will be the foundational elements that we need to both pray for and make every effort to acquire so that we can have victory over despondency.

Number 1: Hope. Nothing in the spiritual life can possibly be done without hope. It is hope that drives our faith in God as we learn to have deeper trust in his faithful promises. Hope must be the first spiritual quality that we pursue as it alone will give us reason to fight and to stand firm. Without hope, the demon of despondency will quickly trap us into despair and have us give up the fight. But with hope in the Lord as our primary defense, we prevent the enemy from confusing us with his lies and we give him no room to introduce fear. We must place our faith in the promises of God who tells us in scripture that “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Number 2: Patience. The gift or virtue of patience is what will allow us to endure and be long suffering. It is patience that will fuel our desire to fight back and not allow the enemy to vanquish us. When the person has acquired patience, only then will they also desire to be perseverant and not give in to the persistent attacks of the enemy that is trying to pin them down. Having acquired patience, we can now be confident that no matter how persistent the enemy is, we also will patiently endure, will stand firm and long suffer, knowing that triumph will soon be ours in Christ.

And number 3: A desire to repent. Unless we have within us that genuine spiritual desire to return to God and to repent, then we are fighting aimlessly. There must be, at the root of all this, a desire to purify the soul in order to pursue union with God. Without this desire, the person plagued with despondency will find no reason to fight off the enemy. Just as a sick person must desire healing and want to live if they have any hope of recovering, so also the spiritual person must truly desire to repent if they hope to heal from despondency in order to be restored back to the spiritual health that the Lord desires to grant them.

My beloved, we have seen how despondency is truly a terrifying passion that terrorizes the human soul. But we have also seen how our Holy Church, filled with wisdom and centuries worth of experience, offers us solutions. We are encouraged to be watchful, to persevere, and to seek counsel. We are also told that we must acquire hope, patience, and a desire to repent in order for us to succeed. So let’s do just that, let us come boldly before God, desiring our heling and restoration, doing our part and making every effort. And in response, He will surely send grace in time of need that we may have victory in Him.

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