In Scripture Jesus tells us “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk17:21) How do we know this? We know it when we experience joy, not just happiness, but a feeling that transcends happiness. It is a feeling that comes from the heart when we know God is with us. But what is the opposite of this? Elder Paisios tells us that it is “when we have anxiety, feelings of guilt, then there is a portion of hell within us.” When we are sadled with anxiety we have left Paradise and find ourselves mired in hell. This is common condition for most people today. Many drugs that we regularly take are for relieving us from this anxiety we experience in our daily life. But we are capable without any medications to experience joy from all our activities in life.
Elder Paisios says, “It isn’t difficult to achieve this; but unfortunately, egoism prevents us from this spiritual magnificence.”
What is required to change this anxiety into joy? The key according the Elder Paisios is to allow God to govern our lives. The involves a surrender of our ego to the Church, to Christ whose Church is His Body. In the Church we are guided through the services, sacraments, teachings about prayer and ascetic practices like fasting to overcome our ego-centeredness and become Christ-centered. But first we have to choose to surrender to the teachings of the Church. We must pray often and for sure every morning and evening. We need to follow the liturgical calendar, and participate regularly in the sacraments, especially Holy Communion and Confession. We must follow the fasting guidelines fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as during the fasting periods like Great Lent. We must read Scripture and the writings of the Holy Fathers. We must make Christ and participation in His Church a top priority in our lives as well as the life of our entire family. Scripture says, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33)
Elder Paisios says,
People today have made their lives difficult, because they are not satisfied with a few things, but are constantly chasing after more and more material goods. But those who would like to live a genuine spiritual life must first of all be satisfied with a few things. When their life is simplified, without too many concerns and nuisances, not only will they be liberated from the worldly spirit, they will also have plenty of time available for spiritual things. Otherwise they will tire themselves out by trying to follow the fashion of the times; they will lose their serenity and will gain only great anxiety.”
Examine your life and search for all those things which are not necessary, that only complicate what otherwise could be quite simple.
The elder gives a very simple example of a man who asked him to come to his home. When he arrived he notices that the man took of his shoes and walked carefully on his toes. He asked him, “Why are you walking like that?” He replied, “Its nothing Geronda; I am walking careful so that I don’t ruin the parquet.”
See how easy it is to complicate our lives? We decorate, we clean, we strive to make money so we can redecorate only to worry about maintaining an appearance. The same goes with our clothing. Also our hobbies, our vacations and so forth. How about all the activities we have our children enrolled in. They keep us busy as well as themselves. Where is time for the creative time at home doing art things with Mom or Dad as I remember from my youth; for apple picking, for building a model railroad, for reading, for climbing trees and and laying on top the vines that have grown over them gazing into the heavens wondering how far the sky goes? We organize everything these days and it only complicates our lives, shuts us off from joy making it more burdensome financially and more stressful to keep up with it all. Joy is replaced with achievement which is always only temporary happiness.
Seek simplicity in your life and you can discover the Kingdom of God within.
Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life, p160