Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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I come to you with a question that has been weighing heavily on my heart, and that has taken much peace from me. There have been certain thoughts that I have been battling for about two years, but I have always turned away the thought once I had it and almost always were disgusted by them. However, recently, I have begun to argue with the thoughts. These thoughts recently are of lustful relationships directed wrongly in more than one kind of way (i.e., towards a boy not around my age). At first the thought was basically doubting that this is wrong.

There was one time that I was, in my mind, trying to argue against/convince myself that a specific thought that I was thinking of was wrong, and then I felt the Holy Spirit tell me that all of these thoughts are wrong, and that I will marry a nice boy my age (as opposed to all the other stuff I was thinking), and I felt a great happiness and peace. Because the doubt that it is wrong still battled me, I brought the thoughts to light in front of a priest, where I was assured that these things were ungodly. It occurred to me that the Holy Spirit said I would marry, which would mean that I am guaranteed that time on earth until then (I am in college). Thus I can do whatever I want right now and repent about it later before marriage, then I will still go to heaven and everything will be fine all the same. In the beginning of this thought, I felt the Holy Spirit (or who I thought was the Holy Spirit) respond to me, "and who told you that God would accept you if you did that?", meaning if I do bad things now and seek mercy later.

That thought was not enough to sustain me, for I know that all who repent are accepted by God, and non-acceptance would only hold true if I do not truly repent from my heart (which I would "plan" to do).  I knew this was from the devil, but I listened to it, and considered it greatly. There were even some bad actions that I did that were in accordance with those thoughts until I read later about some stories of people who have felt or heard things that seemed to be coming from the Holy Spirit but were actually from the devil, so my resolution to remain good and in purity was weak.

I have betrayed God, willingly and knowingly, and it was not until now that I realized the depth of my selfishness and lack of love for God. The only thing now keeping me in self-control is the possibility that the voice I heard was not from the Holy Spirit, and that I could die any minute, and my salvation is at stake. I think my selfishness is more than anyone in the world, for I feel like I care very little or not at all about what Jesus feels; the only thing is that I get to heaven. It even occurred to me that I could be causing tears in my heavenly Father's eyes for this, but my mind answered that it is okay, He will forgive and forget and it will be like nothing happened. It is cruel of me, and yet I do not know how to change this feeling.

I realize that even if that was the Holy Spirit, my salvation is still at stake because the further one gets into sin, the harder it is to come out, especially with sins pertaining to the body. I think those leave permanent damage as it remains in one's memory as well. I also know that repentance cannot be "planned," and God knows the heart, and would not accept "planned" repentance at the last minute out of fear, for it would not be true repentance. Even knowing this, my self-control is not strong at all if the case is that what I felt was the Holy Spirit, for I think that I would be able to have a truly repentant heart later.

Please, to help me understand the consequences of sin (especially the immediate consequences and permanent consequences), because I apparently do not. I have been reading the Life of Repentance and Purity by Pope Shenouda and it has helped, and was one of the places where I read about what sounds like the Holy Spirit is not always the Holy Spirit (and in the Bible I have read of evil spirits proclaiming the truth, which helped me when I had that it must surely be the Holy Spirit since He said that the thoughts were bad).

It also greatly helped me to realize that many saints knew of things that were going to happen to them in the future: St. Mary, Simeon the Elder, David the Prophet, etc. These people knew that their life on earth was not going to be over at least for some time. They could have thought like me and did whatever they wanted and perhaps still returned to God, but they did not. In fact, they were often strengthened and they remained steadfast in the faith. How did they do it? What am I missing? What is the other side of the argument here? I assume it is love for God (for I keep thinking to myself, if this would upset my mother, I would do my utmost best not to do it, for even though my mom might forgive me later, I do not want to be the cause of her grievance), but for God, I sadly realized I do not have any of that love to be able to do what these saints did. I feel like God would just forget later about anything I do now.

God has not left me. I cried out to Him, knowing that I was going down a horrible path, knowing that my heart is betraying Him and that I will surely regret it heavily later, and He has upheld me. He has had great mercy on me, and it is only by His grace that I am not in a bad place right now, for He has carried me through countless temptations. As for me, I am sinful and weak, and still do not have the fervor for Christ as I would like, and still temptations come, and strongly. I do not know what to do. I know these desires will decrease when I am older. I know and have felt that life with Christ is sweet, even in the midst of the battle, if I am fighting on Christ's side with a strong resolve to resist evil, I am joyful. Yet, the pleasure of sin remains tempting, and in my head, sometimes outweighs the sweetness of life with Christ, for I think that I can have both. Sin now, repent later. I know there is a lie about all of this thinking, for the devil is deceptive, and the Bible said you cannot serve two masters. I do not know how to fight the thought that I probably will not die soon. Please advise me on what I should do. I confess regularly, but have been unable to set up a time with my father of confession recently during the time when these thoughts have been strongest.

Do not compare yourself with anyone. Rather, learn from the saints and penitents. Few saints knew the time of their departure was near. These saints were already living a committed life of repentance, but their mission on earth was not yet completed. Continue to strive for purity as the biography of the saints exemplifies, especially those who were transformed through repentance. Purity begins with the mind. Your body will not take you to where your mind forbids you. Regular confession is a reminder of accountability for sins thought and committed and the need for absolution. Therefore, the Holy Spirit reminds you to confess your sins, to partake of the Holy Eucharist, and to bear the fruit of repentance by pursuit of spiritually edifying channels throughout your life. He will never gear you toward procrastinating your repentance or fulfilling impure desires. "God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination" (St. Augustine of Hippo).
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