Chrysostom on Sorrow

Let us not be distressed at the evils that happen to us.  This is sobriety of mind.  “In the season of temptation,” he says, “Make not haste.”(Ecclesiasticus 2:2)  Many have their several griefs at home, and we share in each other’s sorrows, though not in their sources.  For one is unhappy on account of his wife, another on account of his child, or his servant, another of his friend, another of his enemy, another of his neighbor, another from some loss.  And various are the causes of sorrow, so that we can find no one free from trouble and unhappiness of some kind or other, but some have greater sorrows and some less.  Let us not therefore be impatient, nor think ourselves only to be unhappy.
For there is no such thing in this mortal life as being exempt from sorrow.  If not today, yet tomorrow; if not tomorrow, yet some later day trouble comes.  For as one cannot sail over a long sea, and not feel disquietude, so it is not possible to pass through this life, without experience of sorrow.  Yes, even though you name a rich man; for by virtue of the fact that he is rich he has many occasions of inordinate desires.  Although he may be the king himself, since he too is ruled by many, and cannot do all that he would like to do.  Many favors he grants contrary to his wishes, and more than all men is obliged to do against his preference.  How is it so?  Because he has many about him who wish to receive his gifts.  And just think how great is his grief, when he is desirous to effect something, but is unable, either from fear or suspicion, or hindered by enemies or by friends.  Often when he has succeeded in achieving some end, he loses all the pleasure of it, from many becoming at enmity with him.
Again, do you think that they are free from grief, who live a life of ease?  It is impossible.  As a man cannot escape death, so neither can he escape sorrow.  How many troubles must they endure, which we cannot express in words, and which they only can know by experience!  How many have prayed a thousand times to die, in the midst of their wealth and luxury!  For luxury by no means puts men out of the reach of grief; it is rather the very thing to produce sorrows, diseases, and uneasiness, often when there is no real ground for it.  For when such is the habit of the soul, it is apt to grieve even without a cause.  Physicians say that from a weak state of the stomach arise sorrows without any occasion; and does not the like happen to ourselves, to feel uneasy, without knowing any cause for it?  In short, we can find no one who is exempted from sorrow.  And if he has less occasion for grief than ourselves, yet he thinks otherwise, for he feels his own sorrows, more than those of other men.  It is as those who suffer pain in any part of their bodies, think that their sufferings exceed their neighbor’s.  He that has a disease of the eye thinks there is nothing so painful, and he that has a disorder in the stomach, considers that the sorest of diseases, and each thinks that the illness with which he is afflicted is the worst of sufferings.
So it is with sorrow, each thinks his own present grief the most severe.  For of this he judges by his own experience.  He that is childless considers nothing so sad as to be without children; he that is poor, and has many children, complains of the extreme evils of a large family.  He who has but one, looks upon this as the greatest misery, because that one, being pampered, and never corrected, becomes willful, and brings grief upon his father.  He who has a beautiful wife, thinks nothing so bad as having a beautiful wife, because it is the occasion of jealousy and intrigue.  He who has an ugly one, thinks nothing worse than having a plain wife, because it is constantly disagreeable.  The private man thinks nothing more mean, more useless, than his mode of life.  The soldier declares that nothing is more toilsome, more perilous, than warfare; that it would be better to live on bread and water than endure such hardships.  He that is in power thinks there can be no greater burden than to attend to the necessities of others.  He that is subject to that power, thinks nothing more servile than living at the beck of others.  The married man considers nothing worse than a wife, and the cares of marriage.  The unmarried declares there is nothing so wretched as being unmarried, and wanting the repose of a home.  The merchant thinks the husbandman happy in his security.  The husbandman thinks the merchant so in his wealth.  In short, all mankind is somehow hard to please, and discontented and impatient.  When condemning the whole race, the Psalmist says, “Man is a thing of nought” (Ps. 144:4), implying that the whole kind is a wretched unhappy creature.  How many long for old age!  How many think youth a happy time!  Thus each different period has its unhappiness.  When we find ourselves censured on account of our youth, we say, why are we not old?  And when our heads are hoary, we ask whither has our youth flown?  Numberless, in short, are the occasions of sorrow.  There is one path only by which this unevenness can be escaped.  It is the path of virtue.  Yet that too has its sorrows, only they are sorrows not unprofitable, but productive of gain and advantage.  For if any one has sinned he washes away his sin by the compunction that comes of his sorrow.  Or, if he has grieved in sympathizing with a fallen brother, this is not without its recompense.  For sympathy with those that are in misery gives us great confidence towards God.
Hear therefore what philosophy is taught by the example of Paul:  “Weep with them that weep;” and again, “Condescend to men of low estate.”  (Rom. 12:15-16)  For, by the communication of sorrow, the extreme burden of it is lightened.   For as in the case of a heavy load, he that bears part of the weight relieves him who was bearing it alone, so it is in all other things.  Amen.