On Comfort in Sorrow
Elder Macarius of Optina
The most merciful Lord, loving us and wishing to save us and keep us from going astray and from being slaves to our passions, sends us various sorrows, depravations and illnesses, so that we, realizing our vanity and finding no comfort, will turn to Him, "the culmination of our desires." Our heart, when it is wounded by random adventures and sorrows, unconsciously dies to the world, that is to the passions, and seeks comfort in a better one. Yet, sorrows cause the heart to die to the world, that is to voluptuousness, to love of money, and love of glory. The soul, terrified by the noise of temptations, runs to God with much humility, striving to hide from the pangs of sorrow under the protection of His Providence; thus cleansed by frequent thoughts of Him, comes to the knowledge of itself, in solitude it sees the enormity of its sins and begins weeping, which is the door to the innermost place in the life of the new person.
We, in our foolishness, think ourselves lucky and at the peak of happiness when we obtain riches, honor, glory and respect; but God knows better than we do. When he sees that the condition of our soul is harmed by increase of these things, then He takes from us these blessings, like a wise father who refuses to give his son harmful things instead of beneficial things. And just as the good things of this world are themselves harmful to us, and not beneficial, since they plunge us either into luxury, or pride, if we place our hope of comfort in them, then the Lord will take them away from us in His compassion for us, that our souls not perish; which is why we must thank God for His abiding with us. I can tell you for certain that you are on the way to salvation when you are visited by sorrows. There is a cross for every Christian, and each one is unique. When our Lord, Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, took on our flesh, and suffered for our redemption even unto death, death on the Cross, He left us an example, that we might follow in His footsteps and, calling upon us, said: "If any man wishes to follow me, let him take up his cross." (Matt. 16:24) What is this cross, if not sorrows sent to us by God's Providence, to each of us according to the strength we have to bear them?
We see the grace of God does everything for our own good; it sends sorrows so that we, living in comfort and without cares might not become puffed up with conceit, for this is an enemy arrow that can strike us unawares; you don't notice how it stings the heart. But sorrows make us humble; that is why the saintly David cried to God: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." (Psalm 118:71). "Before I was afflicted, I went astray." (Psalm 118:67)
We must accept suffering as sent by God as a trial of our faith or a punishment, and we must not grumble and moan and feel they are spoiling our disposition; we must not blame our sorrows, but blame and reproach ourselves for our faintheartedness, for through this is born humility.
When we receive our sorrows with faintheartedness and we break down under their weight, we are only depriving ourselves of the fruits of patience.
You must believe that no misfortune can happen to you if the Lord does not allow it. And He allows sorrows out of love for us. And so, if you accept your sorrows as a punishment that shows that you are not deprived of God's love, as the holy Apostle Paul writes: "My son! Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord nor faint when they art rebuked of Him. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons. For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers then are ye bastards, and not sons." (Heb. 12:5-8) You see, when we are punished, then we turn like children to the Lord, and if we have no punishments, then we become like surrogates, and not like genuine children. So when you have sorrows, then you know that the Lord has not forgotten you and He is thinking of you; and you can be sure that He will not send more temptation than you can handle, and that along with temptation He will also send relief. In the sorrows that are brought upon you, don't blame any of those who offend you, for it is the Lord who is punishing you and people are only the tools of God, through whom He works.
Accept this with faith and hope and bring to the Lord your gratitude for his untold mercy, for from this you will receive relief and comfort in the bearing of your sorrows and, if it is the will of the Lord, complete deliverance from them.