“We must start small. Often my first act of recovery is doing something as menial as dusting a bookshelf or balancing my checkbook. If I am tempted to devalue such humble activities, I remember that acedia descended on Anthony as soon as he went to the desert, but when he prayed to be delivered from it he was shown that any physical task, done in the right spirit, could free him… Under acedia’s siege I might ask: Why vow myself to a spouse if it is “until death do us part”? We all due anyway and even our sun will one day burn itself out destroying life as we know it on earth. Does this mean that I don’t need to bother about loving or living, here and now? I am better off asking: Why is it that acedia brings such thoughts to the table just as I would feast on life’s bounty? Only then can I fight back, embracing love and commitment as a source of strength and peace instead of despondency. Only then will I have defeated acedia, at least for now.”
I love this quote mainly because of the last line, some might say that’s typical of a fairly pessimistic personality but I think it’s genius. It’s a quote that gives helpful ways to deal with acedia, carrying on doing the mundane, keeping on walking through it and questioning it’s assumptions in our minds. It’s also a quote that is realistic. So many of the struggles of our lives are ones that don’t go away easily. We often think that life is like some kind of neat progression of dealing with our issues one by one until they’ve all gone away and we are some kind of weird perfect version of ourselves able to sail through life like a beautiful swan with nothing to flap us, able to cope with anything.
Let me stamp on that lie now.
It’s a lie.
Our struggles don’t go. Sorry about that. Sure, some might. I’ve known God remove a sin from my life, that I struggled with for years, overnight. I know he can do it but I also know it’s not his normal way of working. I know he helps us deal with our struggles, I know he loves us in our struggles, I know that one glorious sunny day he will make us new and shiny and we will never struggle again. I love the line at the end of the above quote for this reason, defeat of acedia in this life is an ongoing battle. It comes and goes and comes back again. I think that each time it comes back we might be slightly better equipped for the battle but the battle is still there nonetheless.
There are helpful ways to fight the battle well. Having a community around us who we are committed to is a vital part of helping us keep going through the darkness. It is good to learn the discipline of keeping our commitments, living out the life of love we are called to rather than abandoning them along with all hope. Living in the rhythms of community life matter even when they lose their sense of meaning and purpose. Acedia lies to our minds, telling us that the beautiful truth we believe in and live by is a big fat lie. Carrying on with the rhythms that remind us of truth, however untrue it feels, helps so much in the fight.
Recently my excellent brother and sister in law gave me a book of prayer to pray each day. I read a Psalm, a bit of the bible and a set prayer, there is time for quiet, time for prayer and time to reflect on what God is saying to me. I love it for those dark days when all I can do is read the set bits out loud and know I’m part of a wide community who believe these truths and have done for many many centuries. It reminds me I’m part of something bigger than the lies in my head, it speaks truth to my soul when all within me wants to reject and turn from that truth. Weapons like this are invaluable in the fight against acedia.
Short term recovery is possible from the depths of acedia. The darkness does lift and we can live life with vitality again. We battle on and are better equipped next time it hits. We put things in place to keep us in the fight when the storm comes. We struggle and fall, doubt and despair and still we are held. Long long term recovery will come one day when the sun shines out in splendor and we will be welcomed into the world of home. Until then, we need to keep being honest about the fight, the ongoing issues that do not leave and we need to hold each other close in that fight knowing that we have one who will not give up on us however much we give up on him.