“Why do we fritter away our lives?”

Let us attend to ourselves, brothers, let us learn self-control while we have time. Why do we neglect ourselves? Let us be doing something good all the time so that we may find help in the time of trial. Why do we fritter away our lives? We are always hearing a great deal about the spiritual life and we don’t care about it, we even despise it. We see our brothers snatched away from our midst and we don’t abstain, even when we know that in a little while too shall be near death. Look! Since the time we sat down at this conference we have used up two or three hours of our time and got that much nearer to death. Yet we take care to exclude time from our thoughts and we have no fear. Why do we not remember that saying of the Elder that “If a man lose gold and silver, he can always find more to replace it. Time once lost cannot be found again by living in idleness and negligence. No matter how hard we try to regain one hour of this time we shall never find it.” How many desire to hear the word of God and find no one to expound it, while we hear and despise it and are not stirred up by it. God knows, I am frightened by our imperviousness. We who can be saved, and do not even desire it. For we can cut off our unruly desires when they are newly born and we don’t think about it; we allow them to grow up and harden against us so that we make the last evil greater than the first. For, as I often tell you, it is one thing to uproot a blade of grass and another to uproot a great tree.

One of the great old men was at recreation with his in a place where there were cypresses of different shapes and sizes, some large, some small. And he said to one of his disciples, “Pull up that cypress over there.” It was a very small one and immediately the disciple pulled it up with one hand. Then the old man showed him another one, larger than the first, and he said, “Pull up that one.” Working it backwards and forwards with both hands he pulled it up. The old man showed him yet a larger one, and with much more trouble he pulled that up too. Then he showed him an even larger one and with much more labor, straining backwards and forwards and sweating profusely, he finally lifted that one too. Then the old man showed him a still larger one, but for all his energy and sweating he could not pull it up. And when the old man saw that he could not pull it up, he turned to another brother and told him to get up and help him, but even the two of them together could not pull it up. And the old man said to all the brothers: “So it is with our evil desires: insofar as they are small to start with, we can, if we want to, cut them off with ease. If we neglect them as mere trifles they harden, and the more they harden, the more labor is needed to get rid of them. But if they grow to any degree of maturity inside us, we shall no longer be able to remove them from ourselves no matter how we labor unless we have the help of the saints interceding for us with God.” No doubt you see the force of what the saints have to say. And the prophet in the psalm says something similar, “O miserable daughter of Babylon; blessed is he who repays you as you repaid us; blessed is he who dashes your little ones to the ground.”

But let us search out the meaning of this saying in detail. “Babylon” means confusion. For Babel has the same meaning as Schechem. “Daughter of Babylon” means enmity [or the enemy]. First the soul is put to confusion and so it produces sin; but he calls sin miserable, because sin (and I have spoken of this elsewhere) has no existence or substance of its own but is brought into existence through our own carelessness; and again through our correction it is destroyed and loses its existence. Therefore, he says, as though a holy man were speaking to sin, “Blessed is he who pays back to you what you have repaid us.” Let us learn what we have given, what we have received, and what we should desire to give back again. We have given our desire and we received back sin. This text calls “happy” the man who gives back this evil and by this “giving back” he means no longer doing it. Then he adds, “Happy the man who takes your little ones and dashes them against a rock:—as if he would say: Happy the man who seized the things generated from you, “the enemy,” i.e., the evil thoughts, not giving them a chance to grow strong in him and constrain him to evil deeds, but immediately, while they are still in their infancy, before they are fed and grow strong against him, flings them down on the rock, which is Christ. In other words he utterly destroys them by taking refuge in Christ.

St Dorotheos of Gaza

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4 Responses to “Why do we fritter away our lives?”

  1. Deacon Nicholas says:

    Seems like needless destruction of some of God’s trees for the sake of making a point that perhaps could have been made another way.

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  2. PhiLiP s. SchMidT says:

    Dear Father Kimel:

    As I read your penetrating article, J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Silmarillion,’ and in particular, the story of the Númenóreans, sprang to mind.

    The Númenóreans were forbidden by the Valar from sailing so far westward that Númenor was no longer visible, for fear that they would come upon the Undying Lands, to which Men could not come. And for half a millenium, Númenor never questioned the Valar’s wisdom and remained friendly with the Elves, both of Eressëa and Middle Earth.

    But then……
    The Númenóreans became jealous of the Elves for their immortality.
    They started questioning the Valar’s wisdom.
    They pondered aloud why they, having already been gifted with lifespans of 500+ years, were nevertheless destined to grow old and die, unlike the Elves, who, unless they were killed, lived on and on and on.
    Well.
    Although the Númenóreans initially remained loyal, the question had been raised.
    The seed of ‘the cypress tree’ had been sown.

    Now here’s the thing:
    Several succeeding generations passed before resentment of the Valar’s ban transitioned into rebellion against their authority.
    The Númenóreans travelled eastward and started colonizing Middle Earth, at first in a friendly manner, freely sharing their wisdom, skills and knowledge with those whom they came in contact with.

    Now fast forward several hundred more years.
    The ‘friendly manner’ of the vast majority of Númenóreans had disappeared; they still travelled back and forth between Númenór and Middle Earth, but now as cruel tyrants, dispossessing the inhabitants of Middle Earth of what was rightfully theirs.
    Eventually, their wickedness became so great that, prompted by Sauron and fearing old age and death, Ar-Pharazôn built a great armada and set sail into the West to make war upon the Valar, intending to seize the Undying Lands, and by so doing achieve immortality.

    It’s insidious, Father Kimel, the way in which I have similarly and routinely allowed careless thoughts to translate into unwise living.
    Because my heart’s ungodly inclinations have such a long incubation period, they slip under my radar until it’s too late and I can no longer uproot ‘the cypress tree’ on my own. My sinful thoughts have, in fact, become engrained habits.

    So now I nurse my wounded pride and don’t even realize I’m doing it.
    And if I do indeed manage to ‘snap to’…..
    And cry out to God to pull me out of the emotional tailspin…..
    I discover to my horror that I had been entertaining those dark oppressive thoughts for hours!
    Aarrgghh!

    Is ‘the tree’ so deeply rooted that I cannot recognize the Holy Spirit’s still small voice sounding the alarm?
    Must I INEVITABLY squander precious thought time that I cannot hope to recover?
    Is there a way to become soft-hearted and sensitive to God’s ways again?
    Could He indeed “make up for the years of the locusts”?

    Contemplatively,
    PhiL {‘•_•’}

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Clearly, Philip, you do recognize the Spirit’s still small voice. Hence you find yourself in the same position as the rest of us. What then is the Spirit saying to you? Do you have a confessor or an experienced Christian friend who lives near you? That would be the first step.

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