The first reflection may be read HERE

The second reflection may be read HERE

Facing our Thoughts

As we begin to spend some time alone with God – time specifically structured so that we can focus on ourselves and on Christ – “stuff” starts to happen. We begin to be faced with things in our souls (psyche) that we need to address and deal with. These “things” that arise are mostly identifiable as sin. There are certainly other thoughts that will come as well – some to distract us from the work at hand, and some legitimate things we need to care for in our lives. But in our silent times with God we need to carefully focus on ‘the work’ we need to do in Christ. There will be plenty of time to deal with everything else – the time we set aside with God is precious. [It should be said here, as a reminder, that all of our time is to be spent in Christ, but there should also be time we set aside ONLY for Christ.]

So, what is this work that we have to do? The work, the goal and focus of our life is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Putting Christ first in our life is the work we have to do. It is a real struggle for us to do this – our ego wants us first, our sin acts as a barrier between us and God, and the world constantly offers distractions to take our mind off of focusing on Christ. The distraction step has to be taken care of first – whether we’ve left the world (as a pilgrim or a monastic), or whether we’ve created a space in the world for quiet time to focus on God, as discussed in the previous reflection. We must take time as often as possible, daily if at all possible, to be quiet with ourselves and God.

This is the step of ‘facing our thoughts.’ We’ll be sorely tempted to run to distractions when, in silence, we begin having thoughts that are uncomfortable – when we begin seeing things in ourselves that we don’t like. We have to learn to continue persevering in the silence – forcing ourselves to remain and face our thoughts. We can’t run from them or we’ll never find healing. Sit, and pray. Ask Christ to help you know what to do with the thoughts. Many of the thoughts will have to be analyzed, as we’ll discuss below. Remember, we don’t dialogue with temptations or idle thoughts, rather we’re to analyze the remembrance of our sins.

A Deeper Repentance

As we spend this time in prayer with God, we begin to deal with the real issue – the sins I bear that separate me from Christ. My sin has to be dealt with, not on a surface level, but in the depths of my soul. St. Isaac the Syrian famously wrote, “This life is given to you for repentance, waste it not in vain pursuits.” We have the opportunity in this life to remove all barriers between ourselves and Christ and to draw near to Him.

Quite frequently, when we repent of our sins in our daily prayers and even in Confession, our acknowledgement of our sins remains on a surface level. We merely say we’re sorry for some action or thought that violated the commandments of Christ, that separated us from Him. This is good and right and necessary – we need to take ownership of our sins and ask for their forgiveness. But to truly repent, to truly turn away from our sins, requires a deeper repentance. Not only do we need to identify our sins, we also need to understand the harm that our sins have done to us, and we need to understand and take responsibility for the damage that our sins have done to others. With these two understandings we can more sincerely repent, we can ask forgiveness with understanding, and spiritually be ready to walk a different path.

This understanding comes slowly, one sin at a time. And as I understand the specific damage my sins have done to me [how they have affected me, how they have changed me], this knowledge typically leads one back to Confession – a deeper Confession with greater understanding. As I begin to analyze how my sin has hurt others, more unsavory realizations come to light. I realize that I ENJOY SINNING AGAINST OTHERS. As much as we want to believe that we abhor sin, we wouldn’t continue in sin if we didn’t derive some pleasure from it. This is a hard word to face. I’ve enjoyed the harm I’ve done to others by my sin – we must be able to admit this to ourselves. Then we can see what the harm was, and why we’ve enjoyed it.

At this stage we’re entering a fairly deep repentance – now I can acknowledge my sin (the surface sin), the harm I’ve done to myself, the harm I’ve done to others by my sin, and we can acknowledge the deeper sin, the secret sin, that resides within us – this sin that actually gets pleasure from the damage we’ve done to others. This deepest sin is virtually always linked to pride. But we can’t simply walk into Confession tomorrow and say, “I’ve been proud;” we must come to a place where we truly believe it, when we’ve actually seen what the evil in our lives is responsible for, and where that evil has come from – deep within ME. This is a fact that we’d prefer not to see, one of the reasons we enjoy the distractions the world provides us. The reality is that we all suffer from this same disease – we’re all sick – and Christ, our Good Physician, is calling us to healing.

These ever deepening realizations will again lead us to Confession. I realize that this idea of multiple Confessions around the same sin may be a strange idea to some. Technically, we are not confessing the same sin – we’re confessing new knowledge, new understanding of even deeper sins related to the first. The sin of harming oneself in various ways, the sin of harming others [not in a general way, but with specific accountability for specific harm], the sin of enjoying sin, the sins of motivation, etc. Our humbly going to Confession with our ever deepening repentance is for our healing – bringing our broken hearts and lives to Christ for the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation with both God and man.

The next reflection will focus on one particular type of sin that seems to plague us, “The Remembrance of Wrongs”

Recommended reading –
Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: the Life and Teachings of
Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (Serbia)