I was asked for some advice about what seem to be a series of difficult and complicated relationships, and these are experiences that many of share and will perhaps face in the future. So I shared the following thoughts with my friend and hope they might be of wider use.
At some point we need to be seeking to find all of our stability, self-worth, hope and confidence in God. I don’t mean that can just be switched on. It is a spiritual process which produces the fruit of the Spirit. These are not optional extras, as if going to Liturgy is enough to satisfy God. He wants nothing less than our whole life so that he might unite it with his divine life for our salvation. The fruit of the Spirit is:
Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
For most or all of the problems we face with other people, it seems to me that what we need is this fruit of the life of the Holy Spirit. This fruit is not the result of our relationships with others, but of our relationship and union with God.
If we are seeking love from others, then we can find ourselves disturbed and anxious when we do not receive it, or when our own love is not reciprocated. When we are seeking peace through others, then if something disturbs our relationship we will lose our peace. Likewise our experience of joy is rather a seeking after happiness and this also is easily mistaken for something lasting.
I am not speaking to your experiences in particular as if you are at fault. But, I am convinced that in the things you have mentioned, there is peace and joy in union with God. Nor does this mean that we should not be engaged in all manner of relationships with the people around us. We most certainly should be.
But, it seems to me that when we are rooted and established in an increasing experience of union with God by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and are finding the fruit of the Holy Spirit more manifest in our lives, then our relationships with others begin to take on a different quality
i. We no longer rely on any person for anything. We trust them, as far as they are able to bear the weight of our trust. But we do not put our trust IN them. We put our trust IN God. Because God alone can bear that responsibility, and in creating us for union with him he invites us to put our trust IN him unconditionally as he loves us unconditionally.
ii. We expect people to let us down because they also are struggling in this life to experience union with God. They are also sick with a spiritual sickness. This doesn’t mean that when others fail to do what is right there are no consequences, or that we have an entirely casual attitude to everything. But it means that we are not so surprised and shocked that someone else fails us because we recognise that we also fail others, and fail God, most of the time.
iii. When someone does something good and kind and thoughtful to us and for us, we receive this as a gift. We can demand and expect nothing more. And when we have such a view then we receive such gifts all the time and from unexpected sources. When we demand such attention then it is no longer a gift, and so when we do not receive it we are disappointed. But it was never ours to demand.
iv. If we find in our heart any sense of bearing a grudge, or ill will, or grief then we must confess it to God as sin. Because while we are indulging such feelings we are saying that the gifts of God, which he has given us, and waits to give us, are not enough, and we want something else. We are saying that the attention of others is worth more to us than true and living union with God in the heart. But we should not approach God with a sense of guilt for not being the person we know he would wish us to be. Feeling guilty is not saving. Feeling that we should do better if we tried more is not saving. These are evidence of pride. It is our heart saying that we could save ourselves if we did a bit more, and that the real sorrow is that we have not lived as we think we could.
v. In fact we need to turn to God just as we are. We can do nothing else. We confess our reliance on others for that which God alone can give and we ask for grace to begin to experience a more closer union with him that brings forth the fruit of the Spirit for our salvation. If we do that then we will discover that the life of the Spirit overflows from us into the lives of others. And we become an unfailing source of blessing rather than seeking it from others.
vi. There are four things that help us to experience this union with God more closely. (There are more of course, but these are a necessary beginning).
A. We must have a time in the morning and evening when we meet with God as a fixed rule and habit. It is better to pray very little at these times, even just the Lord’s Prayer, than not to pray at all. These should be anchor points in our day so that whatever else happens we stand for a few moments in God’s presence. It is much better to pray the Agpeya at these times, and to remember all those we live with and work with and who have asked us for our prayers. But if we cannot do this then we should at the very least stop and pray the Lord’s Prayer.
B. We must learn to pray the Jesus Prayer as much as we can. It is the short prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. Or we can end, have mercy on us. When we are walking or driving somewhere we can and should pray this prayer. When we are in our bed we should pray this prayer. When we are at work or study we should pray this prayer. Prayer is the means by which we enter into God’s presence, and our Lord Jesus Christ and St Paul instruct and command us to pray without ceasing. To pray without ceasing is to be always in God’s presence, and to be always in God’s presence is to be united with him by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
C.We must offer each day to God, asking that he will use us in his service and give us the grace to overcome sin and to be used by him for the benefit and healing and salvation of others. And we should then expect that he will make such opportunities available. They will not all be religious experiences. They will be practical opportunities to serve others, even complete strangers. We will not notice all of these opportunities at first, but slowly we will find our eyes opened and we will begin to view people in a different way, in the way that God sees them. At the least, we should pray for all those we live and work and study with. We might be the only person in the world who is praying for them. We should make an effort to say Good Morning to people. To ask if we can make them a coffee when we are having one. Without any thought of receiving anything, even thanks, in return.
D. We must be regular and eager to receive Christ himself in the sacraments. Not because attending services makes God happy with us, or prevents him punishing us, but because this is the means by which we receive the divine life into union with our body and spirit and we are those who know that we cannot live without this divine live. That we cannot become truly human, truly that person God created us to be, without a union with the divine light and love.
I know that these are more general points to do with relationships. But they are truths I have learned though my own experience. I believe that they make a difference and will transform us. I hope that some of these comments are of some small use to you.
God bless you and preserve you in peace,