Spiritual Weakness

Spiritual Weakness

pope shenouda iii

I would like to talk to you today about a spiritual subject which is important to all of us; the spiritual weakness.

What is the spiritual weakness? What causes it? How can one overcome this weakness? That’s what we are going to talk about.

There isn’t any spiritual life that stays straight all the time, with no deviation. And there isn’t one where its level has stayed continuously at its optimum. There is always a time of weakness in a spiritual life, even in the life of the saints.


Though there are levels for the spiritual weakness; what is considered to be weakness in the spiritual lives of saints might be very high spiritual levels to us, which we didn’t even reach yet.

In the life of the same person, and throughout his spiritual maturity, he might pass through a period of weakness which he considers to to be of a higher spiritual level than previous days in his life…

We should find out whether this state of spiritual weakness is permanent or if it is just temporary in a one’s life…is his life always spiritually active with the exception of a few intervals of weakness, or is his spiritual life on the contrary always weak with the exception of a few periods of warmth and being active?

Also, this person should find out whether this spiritual weakness is caused by his own will, or by outside wars; is it a result of his carelessness, or is it due to some external pressures?

Let’s now find out the reasons behind passing through spiritual weakness and how it attacks the soul… 

1- Lacking the warmth in repentance:

A person, who has just repented, usually lives in the warmth of his spirituality which got him out of the darkness of sin to the acknowledgment of God. But he doesn’t usually preserve this spirituality for too long. As days pass, he might forget his sins, forget his falls and disgrace, and disregard the grace which saved him in the first place, so he loses his preliminary warm spirituality…!

His self-reproach and humility soon vanishes, life drifts him away and he soon forgets.

David the Prophet preserved his high spiritual life, because his sin was ever before him; he wept on it and drenched his bed with his tears, so that he could not lose his spiritual strength.

Also the Publican, who repented, standing afar off would not so much as lift up his eyes up to heaven, but beat upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

If you are ever distant from the feelings of repentance, and your spiritual life is weakened; listen to St. Ephraim the Syrian’s advice: “He then remembered Mary by her sin, and Israel by his repentance.” Sit and remember how much you hurt God’s heart, and weep upon your sins. 

Sometimes the spiritual weakness is due to being distant from the warm feelings and high spirituality of repentance, because at that point, the causes which drove a person to repentance, have lost their effectiveness.

The motive which leads to repentance might be an effect of a special incident, perhaps an illness, an incidence of death or a temptation; the motive could be the fear of divine punishment; or a person may be moved by a spiritual person, by meetings or readings… As time goes by, this effect lessens, it is forgotten or even vanishes, then the heart falls into spiritual weakness as a result of being apart from the warm feelings which accompanied his repentance.

At the same time, this person might not have even reached and felt the warmth of love. He then becomes distant from the warmth of both repentance and love. 

2- Lacking spiritual means…

This is a result of keeping away from intermediaries of grace, such as spiritual readings, contemplations, prayers, spiritual meetings, chants, hymns, giving alms, attending the divine liturgies, and also drifting away from acquiring spiritual friendships.

The world at the same time is negatively affecting our lives, and on the other hand the spiritual effects are not enough for us to reach equilibrium.

When a person loses his spiritual food, and is far from positive effects, keeping away from intermediaries of grace, then his life becomes weak due to lack of spiritual fuel which was keeping it always on.

So, you have to examine your life: did you neglect one of the spiritual means which push you toward God, which help remind you of Him, and grant you power? 

3- When the spiritual growth just stops:

Spiritual growth gives warmth, as it is constantly moving forward. Growth is the spirit of progress which gives a person the strong desire of achievement.

A person whose spiritual growth stops, his warmth as well goes away and he is weakened. This happens when this person is happy at his current level and stops pressing on, his life is then frozen at that point.

The Christian perfection to which God has asked from us when He said “Be perfect”, has no limits, so we should enthusiastically persue it.

Look at St. Paul the apostle’s fight for the Bible, look at all what was revealed to him. He was caught up to the third heaven, and God granted him many miracles, wonders and signs; he said, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead”. This reaching forward to things which are ahead, was preserving his spiritual warmth for himself, as he said “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold”. This act of pressing on gives the soul a continuous movement; fill it with spiritual desire, so it continues growing without weakness.

So, beware of your spiritual growth – that it might stop. Be like a battery which as long as the vehicle is moving, its power is recharged, so it acquires more power as it gives power to the vehicle as well to go forward… 

4- The formalisation of worship:

When worship becomes monotonous, without understanding, with no soul, nor emotion, without contemplation, a mere task.

The reason behind this might be the interest to increase the amount without caring about going into more depth.

Some worshippers want to increase the amount of their prayers, so they hurry while praying, whilst they don’t understand or contemplate. And their care for the amount doesn’t give them any chance to go deeper into their prayers; the same goes for the spiritual readings and contemplation on the passages.

Thus their prayers become weaker, as the desire of increasing the amount exceeded the love of the heart to enjoy the presence of God through prayers.

How beautiful are the words of St. Paul the apostle who said that he would rather speak five words with his understanding, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1Cor 14:19).

Also, St. Isaac [the Syrian] said, that if a person faces this kind of war during prayer, he should fight it back by saying “I stood up in front of God to pray, not to prepare my words”. 

5- Acheiving Positions:

Positions are considered one of the main reasons which cause the spiritual weakness, because a person loses his humility, consequently he loses his soul and his spirituality.

At first, he used to enter the church with much humility, feeling unworthy of even entering, so he prays deeply asking for mercy. Then, he becames one of the leaders in the church; he cares more for others even if it costs him neglecting his own soul…!

Before, he used to read and benefit from his readings, to apply what he learnt on himself through spiritual exercises, but now he might only read to prepare for a speech or to give a lesson.

He turns into a teacher or a scientist in his readings rather than a worshipper!

He might get so busy in research or studies that have nothing to do with his soul’s salvation. Things that are important only for giving his lectures… and little by little these studies might overwhelm him thus neglecting his own special contemplations, and his spirituality is then weakened. 

Positions can be a source of trouble when it involves people’s appreciation, which can make him forget his sins, lose his humbleness, weakening his spirituality. 

6- People around you:

Some dramatic changes in a person’s spiritual life are sometimes a result of people evolving in his life, his interest in how they judge things and what their opinions are… those people might consider his spiritual growth to be exceeding limits, they might see that his strictness is a biit suspicious, and consider his care about something to be as if he complicates matters, so they ask him to change, and he tries to please them and so his spirituality is weakened…

He used to do virtues as he loved righteousness and loved God himself. And now he is doing it in order to be a good ideal example to other people: he stays away from evil not because he separates evil from God, he does so to not offend anyone!

Thus the spiritual objective is now changed or even deviated, and consequently the spiritual life of this servant is weakened, as the warmth of divine love is now away from his life, and new objectives have appeared in the way, and God is not the axis of his life anymore. 

7- Deviation from the spiritual objective

Such as when worshipping becomes only an act, or turns to be a habit or an obligation, the objective changes to be just about caring what people think and always trying to please them, at that point the service becomes a goal rather than a tool, so God and our relationship with him isn’t any longer the centre of attraction of our heart and our thoughts… 

8- The world’s overwhelming distractions

The world is very busy, most people are all the time busy working or studying, or keeping themselves busy though different types of activities as a means of living with no time left for God and their own spiritual life.

Unfortunately there are lots of pious people and also servants whose lives are very busy; they don’t have enough time to spend it with God!!

Their service consumes all their time, and their life activities also consume all their thoughts and emotions. If God knocks on their door, they reply “go now, and when there is enough time we will call you”!

They started at first serving for God’s sake, but as they continued serving, they almost forgot God, and only thought of their service and its matters which keep them busy – so their spiritual life becomes weak.

Too few of them sit with themselves, examine where they stand, and divide their time fairly between their services and their spiritual life. 

9- A sin or lust:

A sin or lust that captures  person, takes his love, and makes his love always busy; God is no more the centre of emotions in this heart, and because of this lust the heat of his spiritual life which was there has cooled, and the spirituality has become weak… Everyone who feels that his spiritual life has become weak should search deep into his soul, and find out if there is a sin which lies at the door, to which he has granted his longings, and it rules over him, and occupies God’s place in his heart? If so, he should repent and escape with his life, so that he might retain the warmth of his spiritual life…

Search for the reason which caused your spiritual life to become weak, as the book says “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent” (RV: 2:5).

10- Pride

Perhaps you consider yourself to be great, and when pride entered your life after repentance, pride then entered your heart as well. So God deprived you of his grace which He granted you before, so that you might recognise and feel how weak you really are and be humble instead, and this is why God has permitted spiritual weakness to come to you in the first place…!