Struggle and Weakness

Often in American Christian circles we’ve hear that so-and-so is struggling. Oh, no! They’re struggling with some sin or doubt or crisis; how awful!

In fact it’s possible to become convinced that all our stress and pain are temporary, and when they pass we will return to a state of peace and contentment — then we’ll finally be able to relax, when things return to normal. But the fact is that most of us are in a state of stress or crisis, fear or grief, or inner conflict that at times feels like it might break us. It’s been said that “Peace is the ideal we infer from the fact that there have been occasional lulls between wars.”

During my time at the monastery, I realized I had landed in a very different culture when I noticed that struggle was assumed to be normal, healthy and good. I’d hear them say, “How are you doing?”

“I’m struggling.”


To the monks, the other alternative — not struggling — implied drifting passively downstream to destruction. Only by being intentional can a person awaken from sleepwalking, struggle against his habits and patterns of thought, deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.

Last week I ran across two quotes on struggle and weakness: One from a saint of our own time, and one from another saint a thousand years earlier. I appreciate their frank, realistic estimate of our strength, and out need of the strength of God to do anything at all.

God’s grace always assists those who struggle, but this does not mean that a struggler is always in the position of a victor. Sometimes in the arena the wild animals did not touch the righteous ones, but by no means were they all preserved untouched.

What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.

Though a man may be found in a weak state, that does not at all mean that he has been abandoned by God. On the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ was in trouble, as the world sees things. But when the sinful world considered Him to be completely destroyed, in fact He was victorious over death and hades. The Lord did not promise us positions as victors as a reward for righteousness, but told us, “In the world you will have tribulation — but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

The power of God is effective when a person asks for the help from God, acknowledging his own weakness and sinfulness. This is why humility and the striving towards God are the fundamental virtues of a Christian.  — St. John Maximovitch (+1966)

The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power.

Such a man, having achieved some things and eager to achieve others through this divine power, never belittles anyone. For he knows that just as God has helped him, and freed him from many passions and difficulties, so, when God wishes, He is able to help all men — especially those pursuing the spiritual way for His sake. And though in His providence God does not deliver all men altogether from their passions, still like a good and loving physician, with individual treatment He does heal each of those who are trying to make progress.  — St. Maximos the Confessor (+662), Four Hundred Texts on Love, 2.39

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  1. Hello,
    I am interested in this part in particular:
    “To the monks, the other alternative — not struggling — implied drifting passively downstream to destruction. Only by being intentional can a person awaken from sleepwalking, struggle against his habits and patterns of thought, deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.”

    I used to follow a teacher, who’s teaching i still see as, at least in part, compatible with Christianity. He particularly stressed intentional suffering.

    Which monks promoted this practice? Are there any writings you can point me to which elaborate on this practice? Learning this kind of suffering has taken a great importance in my eyes.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I think it is part of Orthodox monastic tradition and Christianity in general to suffer for the sake of Christ. Saint John the Long-Suffering, the monk of Kiev Lavra has buried himself waist-deep for the all period of Lent in order to suffer and to struggle against the passion of fornication. He won with the help of Christ.

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