It’s a question we often ask ourselves. There are just times in our lives when we seem to feel that God is not answering our prayers. We want peace, and we are in turmoil. We want to feel as if we’ve forgiven someone, but in our next encounter with them, the past is remembered, and we can’t truly say our forgiveness is complete. We want to pray meaningfully, but after our prayers, we feel empty.
If we think for a few moments, we’ll find that there are other examples of how we feel that our spiritual progress is just not what we hoped it would be. Does any of this sound familiar?
And so, what do we do?
If you are an athlete, how do you train for an event? If you wish to run a 100 yard dash, do you go to the track the day before the race, run the course once, and think it to be enough? The Olympics are beginning. Those who are considered the best athletes in the world are there, and they are competing. Do you think that there is one of them who has dedicated just the past month to training? Most of those who go to compete have dedicated their entire young lives to achieving the goal of getting to this competition, for being given the chance to measure themselves against the best in the world, and to see if they can overcome the limitations that they know that they still have to emerge victorious over the others.
Do we hear and understand that last statement. Those who go know that they have not achieved perfection. They know that they have limitations. How do they deal with this? They compete so that their limitations do not come to the forefront. They find ways to overcome the limitations. If a gymnast knows from training that they’ve succeeded in performing a triple jump once in every 50 tries, you can count on them not including it in their routine!
What does this mean for us? It means that we too need to see our limitations. They, like our talents, are also “God given.” If we were not limited in this way, how much more difficult would it be for us to find humility in our daily lives?
Saint Leonid of Optina was once asked by one who sought his spiritual counsel, “Why, after years of struggle, do I find myself worse instead of better, more inconsiderate, colder of heart?” Saint Leonid’s reply can enlighten us in our own struggles.
“Very few have flown up in a short time on the wings of faith and virtue into the spiritual heaven, or have sensed in themselves the undying pledge of hope and the betrothal of future glory. There are others who will never sense this during their whole life on earth. They will not sense it according to the dispensation (the gift) of our heavenly Protector, God, Who always provides what is best for us. For we, infants in our understanding of the judgments of Him Who directs the world, often ask of Him such tools which in their own right and power are for our salvation, but we would put them to entirely detrimental use because of our inexperience. Therefore, the loving Father of lights hides from certain pious people the gifts which are for the salvation of some, but to others bring perdition. What would happen if God, Who knows all things, completely fulfilled our every wish? I think, but I’m not saying for certain, that everyone in the world would perish. Even though He does not reject the prayers of His chosen ones, God still does not at all times fulfill their desires. And this only in order to arrange everything in a better way, in keeping with His divine intent. Just because you see yourself making no progress does not mean that you are not making any progress at all. Such feelings can plant sincere humility in your heart. And when you have the genuine awareness that you are deprived of spiritual fruit, then make an unfailing effort to force your striving with God. When we have had no success in the virtues, three is no closer means for salvation than humbleness of mind. Haughtiness, even when joined to the virtues, is offensive to God. But a meek thought will not be forgotten before Him.”
God’s wisdom is greater than we can imagine. Even we have the wisdom to know, for instance, that a child is not ready to drive a car. All of the muscles, all of the awareness, they are present in the child. But the child lacks the experience to control unforeseen things. How can we expect God’s wisdom for us to be less than our own? It is folly to think in this way! He gives to us what we need, when we are ready.
It is up to us to be accepting (and thankful) for that which we have, to recognize it as adequate (for God always gives us what we need), and to seek His will (and not our own) from that starting point.