[O]ur profession too has its own goal and end, for which we undergo all sorts of toils not merely without weariness but actually with delight; on account of which the want of food in fasting is no trial to us, the weariness of our vigils becomes a delight; reading and constant meditation on the Scriptures does not pall upon us; and further incessant toil, and self-denial, and the privation of all things, and the horrors also of this vast desert have no terrors for us.

~ St. Moses the Ethiopian, from the Conferences of St. John Cassian, 1.2

By “our profession,” Abba Moses here refers to monasticism, likely of the eremitic sort. Yet in this case, at least, that doesn’t mean that his teaching only has value for monks and hermits.

Monasticism, after all, is meant to be a vocation in which people dedicate their whole lives to spiritual development. But everyone is supposed to grow spiritually. So monks can teach us a lot about that, even if our own contexts are quite different.

I’ve explained monasticism before as a sort of laboratory. Monks are spiritual scientists, running all kinds of experiments and leaving a record that others can test and either confirm or challenge. That is certainly the way the Sayings of the Desert Fathers works. It contains as many stories of monks’ failures as there are of their exploits. And just like other scientists today, once their work had been tested and proven valuable and true, its fruits were able to be extended to everyone. That, I presume, is how we got great things like Count Chocula. And it is also how we got great things like Great Lent.

So what does Abba Moses say about the monastic life that has application beyond that vocation?

The short answer is “a lot.” He is one of my favorite desert fathers and his life and teachings were full of enduring wisdom.

For the sake of this post, however, I only want to focus on one thing. One aspect of spiritual growth is learning to “undergo all sorts of toils not merely without weariness but actually with delight.” He even speaks of how for monks “the weariness of [monks’] vigils becomes a delight.”

Vigils aren’t the most common spiritual practice of the ordinary, non-monastic person living in the world. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are rightly given priority. Other stuff beyond that approaches the supererogatory.

Yet it is not at all the case to say that everyday people don’t practice vigils. They don’t often plan them ahead of time like monks, but they do have them.

As a married man with two small children, I can assure you that living in the world doesn’t mean always getting 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. The baby (Aidan) usually sleeps with us, and sometimes the five-year-old (Brendan) ends up in our bed too.

I usually discover this in one of the following ways: 1) The five-year-old wakes me up by kicking me between the legs. 2) The baby mercilessly pinches me. Or 3) I get ready for bed only to discover that my place has already been taken, so I sleep on the couch or in another bed instead.

Another problem I have is that I’m an introvert. This means that I need (or think I need) some time alone every day to process thoughts, emotions, and experiences. I may not always be actively reviewing all of these things in my head at the time, but just being alone has a way of setting things in their places and helping me reset for the day to come. If I want this time, it usually means that I have to stay up later than everyone else. Which means the later my wife Kelly goes to bed, the later I go to bed. Often this means being up past midnight (like right now).

Thankfully, I don’t suffer from insomnia. I have before, but it has been brief and rare in my life, not a recurring affliction as it is for some people.

The point of all this is that people lose sleep in the regular course of things all the time. Due to personal quirks and life events, people lose even more sleep. Weariness does not belong to monks alone.

St. Moses, to his credit, does not make that claim. He just happens to be talking with two other monks (Cassian and Germanus), so the monastic life is all he is concerned with. But it might at least be accurate to say that the delight of weariness is more commonly found in the monastery or cell.

This is because monks have much more time to reflect on their weariness. In the world, we are so busy that we don’t even have time to be tired. We still are, of course, but we don’t have time to do it well. Or we don’t think we do, at least.

In fact, the few times I have suffered from insomnia, in hindsight, seem to have been times in my life when I needed extra time alone to process something. I may not even have connected the two until days later, but then I could say, “Oh…. That’s why I couldn’t sleep the other night.”

I like this teaching from Abba Moses, because he doesn’t add guilt to the stress of weariness. He doesn’t tell Cassian and Germanus that they ought not to be weary. And—to be clear—he most certainly would apply this to everyday people as well, as just before saying this he uses the example of the farmer, the merchant, and the soldier, who endure weariness for the sake of an abundant harvest, higher profits, and high honors, respectively. His point is that in our professions (I wouldn’t assume them to be “vocations”), we go through a lot to get a paycheck. So why not in our spiritual lives as well.

Now, there are times when the farmer does not enjoy farming, nor the merchant sales, nor the soldier (most of all, I hope) war. And I am hesitant to call all professions vocations because I don’t want people to think that they are destined to be stuck in a job they don’t like. From a Christian perspective, we all have one vocation: to reflect more clearly each day the image of Jesus Christ. That is as true for my plumber as it was for St. Antony.

However, within that one all-encompassing vocation, we can make spiritual sense of all other professions, roles, and vocations we may have. If my ultimate goal is the kingdom of heaven (as Abba Moses goes on to say), then I need to welcome every opportunity in my life for purity of heart. Generally speaking, that will mean weariness.

It is wearisome, but it is not burdensome. Perhaps that sounds like splitting hairs, but this weariness that we can delight in transfigures those things that would weigh upon us into things that, with effort, lift us up.

I may lose sleep because of my children, but if I fix my mind on purity of heart and imitating Jesus Christ for the sake of the kingdom of God, then I can delight in it. I can remember Christ telling his disciples: “let the little children come to me” in a society in which children were not as treasured as they are today.

When I’m up late just to be alone, I can remember how he sought out lonely places to pray and escape the attention of the crowds. I’m not saying Jesus is an introvert—I’m not even sure how limited that category may be—but I do think he understood me, not just as an observer, but as someone who has had that same experience.

And lastly, when the stress of life’s everyday pressures and unexpected tragedies bears down upon me, I can remember his invitation: “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” There is a rest that comes from unceasing labor to do the right thing, day after day, despite everything that wearies us in the world. There is a delight that leisure cannot know. There is eternal life hidden beneath this mortal coil.

I do not always know that delight as I ought. But if through watchfulness I seek each day to set my mind on purity of heart, it will not long be lost to me. It will inhabit the air I breathe. It will warm the coldest places of my soul. That delight will stay with me through the night and rise with me in the morning. It will be in the faces of my family, friends, and coworkers. It will show me how Jesus holds all these things together, even me, in the graceful work of his restful love.

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