“Life in Christ is like an iceberg: we only see the tip of it here on earth. But an infinite amount of grace lies submerged, and God communicates this to man by means of man’s faith.”
I recently finished one of the best (and longest) spiritual books I’ve ever read. It’s called Remember Thy First Love: The Three Stages of the Spiritual Life in the Theology of Elder Sophrony.
I know, I know…it sounds real boring doesn’t it? Believe me, I thought the same – especially when you couple the very long title with the plain brown cover and the book’s thickness…463 pages and ZERO PICTURES! Not exactly what you think of as light reading.
But trust me, the book is PHENOMENAL! Truly inspirational and full of nuggets of wisdom all over. Yes it’s long, but it isn’t nearly as difficult/cumbersome as it appears.
The goal of the book is to describe the three stages of the spiritual path for the child of God. Yes we’re all unique and so is our journey, there are still general patterns God uses in all of our lives.
"Each person’s way to God and his relationship with Him are unique, and it is therefore difficult to speak of spiritual life according to a general scheme or pattern. On the other hand, there are certain stages and features common to all of us because we all share the same human nature. So our experiences are unique but they have features in common."
The first stage is the “first love” stage. I call that the honeymoon phase. It’s the time where we have a strong sense of God’s grace shining upon us and as a result, we begin our faith journey. This is where we fall in love with God for the first time. It is “full of joy, full of divine consolation, full of the vision of God.”
But unfortunately it doesn’t last forever. Just like the honeymoon phase in marriage gives way to a period of challenge, the same is true in our spiritual journey. The second stage is the “withdrawal of grace” stage.
This is the phase of trials and challenges, where we must fight against the doubts and wars that we are faced with.
Trials and temptations are now permitted to come our way and this gives us the chance to express to God, under adverse conditions, our appreciation of the wonderful gift of His grace. He kindly allows us to prove our trustworthiness in order that we be made worthy of the fullness of the divine life, the full portion of our inheritance.
Our “perfection” is ultimately tied to how deeply and thoroughly we live through this period of God’s seeming “abandonment” or “withdrawal of grace.”
Most of the book deals with this phase because this is where most people are living today – struggling with “why would God allow this to happen?” or “when will God give me victory over this problem?” or “how come I just can’t seem to solve this?”
But by the grace of God and the humble spirit of the sojourner (which is the #1 requirement to advance along the path) the one who endures till the end will find himself in the third stage – that of our final adoption as children, by which we become heirs of God and joint-heirs of Christ (see Romans 8:17).
Said another way, that third stage is where we’re livin the good life!
The permanent reacquisition of grace – the prize for the struggle man has waged during the second stage – is awarded when he has convinced God through the fidelity of his heart that he desires to belong to Him alone.
The third phase is to the spiritual life what the golden years are to marriage – true love, not based on emotions or feelings, but based on deep knowledge. The honeymooning couple thinks they love each other unconditionally; but ask any married person and they’ll tell you the same thing that you have no idea what true love is until you’ve lived together and gone through the struggles of marriage together.
The same is true spiritually. The third stage looks a lot like the first stage in appearance, but in truth, it is infinitely greater in depth.
All in all, I give this book a big TWO THUMBS UP! Extremely deep but trust me, not that hard to read. The perfect book to pick up and read 5-6 pages a night with highlighter in hand. Trust me, it'll speak to you if you give it a chance.
For discussion: I'd love to hear feedback from others if you've read this book as well. Did you enjoy it? Why or why not?