You’re still coughing from that last bout of bronchitis. You don’t like doctors and hate taking medicine so you’ve just ignored it. You think vitamins are for sissies and don’t do any good. You had a twinkie and a cup of coffee for breakfast and you’re thinking a cheeseburger would make a convenient lunch. You drop by to see your friend in the hospital. There are isolation signs on the door but you ignore them and walk in. You sit down next to your friend and chat for a while. You leave, not washing your hands, and head off to the local fast food place for lunch. That night as your fever climbs past 103, you wonder what went wrong. [In the meantime, your friend has started coughing…]
Well, looking at this scenario, none of us can be of any doubt what went wrong:
First, you haven’t attended to your own health. You didn’t see the doctor when you were sick. You didn’t take the medicine that would have brought you back to health. You haven’t maintained a healthy diet. When exposed to more contagion your immune system was so poor that you caught it without a struggle.
Second, you placed yourself in the path of another infection. You didn’t use the protection recommended such as gloves and a mask. At the very least, you didn’t wash your hands and so carried the germs with you when you left.
Third, because you didn’t trouble yourself to contain your own germs, you’ve passed them along to someone else.
But, what if the initial illness you had wasn’t bronchitis, but envy? What if your friend didn’t have some nameless infection, but anger and resentment? The interesting thing about spiritual illness is that it has so many parallels in physical illness.
Let’s look at that scenario again, but look at it from a spiritual rather than physical perspective:
You’re still griping inwardly over the news that your sister-in-law has gotten a huge promotion and her child is now in the national honor society. You whined about it on FB and sent a passive-aggressive note to your brother about his overachieving family. The last time you went to Liturgy was Pascha, two months ago. You can’t remember the last time you went to confession because you don’t like priests and don’t think confession does any good. You watched an hour of The View while drinking your morning coffee and listened to Howard Stern on the radio on the way over to the coffee shop to visit your friend. When you get to the coffee shop your friend is ranting over the fact that someone cut her off on the road. You instantly dive into the discussion, angry about people’s irritating driving habits. Your envy of your sister-in-law starts turning into anger at your dead-end job. You gripe about your job, your family, and everything else that suddenly starts feeling unendurable, to your friend and she jumps on that bandwagon with you. You remind her of her own sister who just bought a new house while your friend is still renting. You both leave the coffee shop, you now angry at the world and your friend envious anew of her sister. You wonder why your day has done nothing but gone downhill…
So, let’s break it down:
1. Take care of your own spiritual health:
Just like a healthy diet, regular check-ups, seeing your doctor when you’re sick, taking your medicine as directed, etc., will contribute to your overall physical health, there are ways that you take care of your spiritual health.
- Attend Liturgy and Vespers (and other appropriate services) on a frequent basis.
- See your spiritual father for frequent confession.
- Pray daily, especially a prayer rule given as an obedience.
- Partake of the sacraments.
- Cut down on unhealthy spiritual influences from various media (television, internet, magazines and books, music).
- Read, listen to, or watch things that are spiritually healthy.
All of these things build up a healthy spiritual immune system so you are not so susceptible to evil things.
2. Protect yourself from unhealthy things:
If you went to see someone in the hospital who had a contagious illness you would follow the recommendations as to wearing gloves, a mask, a gown, etc.
- When you come into contact with someone who is spiritually sick, you need to (1) recognize that they are spiritually sick [n.b. – this is ALL OF US, no exceptions, although I grant that some are in outpatient therapy and some are in ICU on life-support] and (2) be on your guard for “germs” that will want to attach themselves to you.
- Say the Jesus Prayer, especially when someone is wanting to gossip with you, excite you to anger against someone, say offensive things to you, etc.
- Repel bad thoughts that come to you at such times.
- Understand that just as you are not always in a position to visit very sick people in the hospital, you may not need to come into contact with certain people, for your own good and, frankly, theirs. This isn’t through lack of charity, but through understanding that you are not spiritually strong enough to withstand the assaults that would result.
3. Don’t spread your own germs around:
We (well, at least let’s hope not) would not ordinarily go around coughing on people and shaking hands with people when we’re sick. We understand that we need to contain our germs during the time we’re contagious so we don’t interfere with anyone else’s health. (In the meantime, of course, we’re working on getting better.)
- Going to confession is a way of “rooting out” these spiritual germs in a safe environment. You can think of the priest’s epitrachelion as the ultimate gown, mask and gloves. (:
- The old “misery loves company” saw is such a true one. When you’re in a bad mood you love to drag everyone else down with you. Don’t. Say your prayers instead.
- Resist the temptation to post about your bad feelings online.