Rest for Those Weary of Chronic Grief and Fury – Brad Jersak

“Satan cannot drive out Satan.” —Jesus of Nazareth

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 1.35.22 PM“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche

They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you
—U2

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence, you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence, you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hate Shapes Us

What makes hatred so horrid is that it reshapes its victims, fashioning them into the mirror image of the object of their hate. The fists of hatred compress the finest people like putty, kneading into our righteous anger its own malignant toxins—fear and malice—deeply internalizing what we most despise.

No matter how cruel offenders can be, their most pernicious evil is the change they cause in their victims, with or without their consent.

The call to forgive—literally “let go”—whatever it means for the offender, is Christ’s plea that we would unchain ourselves from our offender’s ongoing negative influence. And Christ delivered us the key. “Father, forgive them” becomes Christ’s mandate to us: loose yourselves from the bonds of infectious resentment that unite you to what you hate.

“But what they did…”

Yes. What they did.

Forgiveness isn’t justifying what they did.

It is unhooking ourselves from how what they did continues to torment, twist and diminish us.

“Loose yourself.”

“But I can’t.”

No. You can’t.

Christ can, but only when you’re finally willing.

When at last you see that the fists of hatred crushing you are your own and you open them up and stop choking yourself.

Rest from Exhausting Grief and Fury

I don’t write this to chide others into guilt-driven pseudo-forgiveness. I am dealing with my own heart and hoping that others who overhear might also benefit.

You see, I’ve experienced a long year of chronic grief with a side of seething fury. I manage it as best I can with a bad blend of repression, insomnia and praying angry psalms. Eden tells me that being real is generally better for me than being good. But, then when she takes the brunt of my misery, I eventually opt for a walk.

On one of these recent walks, I figured I’d better just sputter “the Jesus Prayer” about 300 times: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

[Oh, you’re not a sinner? Good for you. And yes, I know my identity in Christ, thank you. And no, I’m in no mood. 1 John 1:8].

Once that was off my chest and I was finally quiet enough to contemplate in silence, Jesus’ invitation wafted in gently, like a down feather drifting through the aftermath of a flailing pillow fight. He said,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-29)

Christ seemed to skip past the need to perform invasive surgery on the my emotional tumors or apply incisions to my vengeful demands. This was an offer of simple reprieve—to just breathe and give it a rest. Who knew that taking a break from intense feelings isn’t always denial. Hmm.

Confessions

IMG_6169The next morning, I went to the monastery where I often chant the Scriptures or give the 8-minute homily. I know most of my readers are not Eastern Orthodox. Don’t worry, I’m not recruiting, but do you want to hear my story? If not, just skip to the final quote and have a nice day.

Still here? Okay, so one thing I do is go to confession. Orthodox confession is not about guilt for sin or doing penance. I visit my kindly old confessor, Bishop Varlaam, because he understands that confession is about hearing my anxieties and speaking the good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness to my accusing conscience. He always lightens the load, reminding me to return to the Father’s house asap, without fear or self-loathing.

“What’s troubling you?” he asked.

I say, “I’m furious.”

He replies thoughtfully, prophetically, “Well, of course, we all experience times of hurt and anger. That comes with the human condition. The problem is that grief and anger make us so weary. And you are exhausted. Perhaps today you could hear these words of Jesus: ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

Ah, that again.

As I rose to leave Bishop Varlaam, I noticed a new-to-me antique icon of Christ sitting on a stand beside him. I asked about it and he explained it was a recent gift and over 300 years old. On it, Jesus was holding an open Bible—the Gospels, actually. There was a verse written on the page, but I couldn’t read it because it was in Slavonic—old Russian.

“Which verse is that?” I asked.

IMG_6195“I’m not sure,” Varlaam said. He bent close to the picture and slowly began to translate: “Oh yes, it says… ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

That was some nice synchronicity, I thought, heading back to the “readers’ stand,” where we keep all our prayer books and where I chant prayers when it’s my turn. As I approached, Dmitri handed me one of the books, open already to a prayer by St. Basil.

“Read this,” he said, and I did.

The Prayer of Basil, composed in the late 300s, is a beautiful confession of our weakness and Christ’s unfailing mercy. It’s about a page and a half long. I start chanting the pray and about half-way through, find myself praying aloud: ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

By God’s grace, I had discovered one of Jesus’ many approaches to therapy (he’s a “wonderful counselor”). The “rest” Christ gives is not merely a diversion from our weariness. It is medicine for it. As I rested from my drama in the arms of Christ, his gentle embrace applied balm to my wounds and soothed my raging heart. His meek touch is no mere “there, there” platitude, but a powerful and effective ministry of detox and rehab for the passions and impulses that would morph me into the monsters I hate.

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