“As for me, I am full of joy in the Lord, now that at last your consideration for me has blossomed again; though I recognize that you really did have consideration before, but had no opportunity to show it. I do not say this because I have lacked anything: I have learnt to manage with whatever I have.” (Philippians 4:10-11)
The above words of Paul bring to sharp focus the attitude of the stoics to life. The basic tenet of the stoicism as a school of Philosophy is “Learn to be indifferent to external influences like torture, imprisonment and the like. According to Epicletus, an influential Stoic who began his life as a Roman slave and rose to be a Roman official, virtues reside in the will; only the will is good or bad. If one has a good will by remaining indifferent to external happenings, one’s essential character cannot be destroyed by one’s external event in one’s life.” It is against this background that this article seeks to bring to the fore the numerous opportunities that life offers us by considering the following points: search for treasures in the darkness, accept pain with open hands not fists, and avoid bringing attention to yourself in moments of difficulties.
To start with, one of the numerous ways of remaining indifferent especially to situations you cannot change is to search for God in the darkest moment of your life. People who choose to follow the Lord will experience frequent disappointments of great magnitude if they do not develop this discipline of disillusionment- a discipline that life is not at all rosy. Unfortunately, many of us in Christian community live by certain illusions or misconceptions about life. Too many of us simply have not done our homework to understand the facts of who we are as human beings and our inclinations to good or evil. Moreover, we have illusions concerning God as well and when our knowledge of God and how he works is insufficient, it is not uncommon to fall into deep disappointment when he does not perform quiet as we, in our ignorance anticipate. We need to learn obedience even in our suffering as Christ our model did. While in the garden of Gethsemane, in pain and in agony, he prayed that his father’s will be done in his life and the puzzle that will remain unanswered is that his father’s will for him was that he should die for us” “…The Spirit of God provides a special grace to the person in pain that may not be experienced or even visualized by those looking on” . This was true of Jesus. “Then an angel appeared to him, coming from heaven to give him strength. In his anguish, he prayed even more earnestly and his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood.” (Luke 22: 43-44). This was the moment Jesus closer to his father than ever. For the writer to compare Jesus’ sweat to a drop of blood showed the extent of his dependence on his father at that material moment. At what moment of your life have you felt closer to the Lord?
Secondly, in facing the realities of life, we must accept pain with open hands, not fists. Pain tempts us to be angry at whomever we think is the source of our problem. Perhaps that is why so many people get angry with God when they go through the pain of a loved one’s death or the loss of a job or a serious illness. Sometimes, we are faced with so many temptations and the question that often comes to mind is “ If God is such a loving God, why can’t he take better care of me?” “Our thoughts are only based only on how we are feeling now; they do not take on God’s infinite view very easily.” (St. Augustine). Michael Quoist has this to say:
As long as a child plays quietly, his mother remains in the kitchen preparing dinner. But if he does something naughty and hurts himself, his screams will bring the mother running to help him. Despite his behavior, she is there, attentive and loving than ever. But the child, nonetheless can rebel against his hurt. He can throw himself on the floor; he can kick the piece of furniture on which he hurt himself: he can strike out at this mother who is trying to help him. But if he loves his mother, he goes beyond his pain and throws himself into his arms. She does not take the hurt away but in holding her child, she bears the hurt with him.
Like the mother, that is what exactly Jesus does for us whenever we are in difficulties. He shares in our pain without necessarily taking away our pain. Thus, he tells us “Take my yoke upon yourself for my yoke is light and not burdensome.” In precisely the same way we can choose in our pain an attitude that further separates us from the father or that draws us closer to him. Our attitude must be like that of Job who even in pain said “… If we take happiness from God’s hands, must we not take sorrow too?” (Job 2:10). Like the Stoics, Job knew that it was not in his power to change his situation but to change his attitude by remaining indifferent to his situation.
Finally, one must as much as possible avoid bringing attention to himself in moment s of difficulties. When one feels the pain of some kind of fall, there is an overwhelming temptation to look around to see who is noticing and who will come along to offer attention. If the person comes, the temptation is to reveal everything that is on our mind to him: our anger, our frustration and our cries about injustice. This tendency to call for attention from other people may cause us to forfeit what we could have received from God. In times of doubts and pain, one needs a deep reflective moment to count the blessings of the Lord one by one; in moments like these, we must begin to ponder anew what the almighty God has done and can do and above all lift up holy hands in prayer and say Lord we love you, teach us Lord to be docile. In our trying moments, we are tempted to compare our righteousness with that of other people. Like Job, let us individually learn to say in difficult moments that: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return again. Yahweh gave, Yahweh has taken back. Blessed be the name of the Yahweh” (Job 1:21).
In conclusion, whenever we are in pain or trouble of any kind, we should not compare ourselves to any standard but the perfection of Christ otherwise we will always put ourselves in a scary place. Thomas a Kempis wrote it nicely when he said: “It will not hurt you at all to consider yourself less righteous than others, but it will be disastrous for you to consider yourself better than even one person”
The Akans have a song “ Oben me kyen m’damfo.” Always remember that Jesus Christ is nearer to you than your friend is and in facing the realities of life, one must, among other things search for treasures in darkness, accept pain with open hands not fists and avoid bringing attention to oneself. Thus, in times like these our prayer should be, “Lord grant us the serenity of mind to accept those things that we cannot change; the courage to change those we can and the wisdom to know the difference.”