Most secular people structure their days to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain or discomfort. The problem with this strategy is that they will run out of ways to achieve pleasure that still feels like pleasure to the burned-out dopamine receptors in their brains. They end up suffering from a myriad of side effects that make them worse off than when they started.
After I established a Christian way of life, I wondered to myself, “How did I live before? How did I get by without God?” From the perspective of an online observer, it seemed like I was having a grand time with all the fun, women, travel, and minor internet fame, but in reality I couldn’t get through a single day without diving into all sorts of pleasures, both small and large.
When I was living in Poland, the first thing I would do upon waking up is go to a busy cafe and order a Caffè Americano. When the coffee was brought out to me, I’d meditate on the aroma as it opened my nasal passages, anticipating the joy I was about to receive. Then I would cup the coffee with my hands and close my eyes—almost as if I were in prayer—and slowly take the first sip to savor the bitter taste. I usually paired the coffee with a buttery chocolate croissant. I’d nibble on the croissant, approaching feelings of ecstasy when little pieces of dark chocolate melted in my mouth. I’d proceed with some writing but would always be quick to halt work to watch a beautiful woman who entered my field of view. I would evaluate her in a sexual manner, maybe fantasize about fornicating with her, and use that lustful energy to fuel my pickup writings which I hoped would increase my income and internet stature as the hairiest alpha male in the world. I would also enjoy the stimulation and novelty of the foreign people who surrounded me.
After a couple hours of work, I would go home and put on modern music with catchy melodies that titillated my ears and caused movement to my body. I would prepare a rich breakfast of Polish farm ham, cheese, eggs, and bread with butter, and enjoy the mouthfeel of animal food products. I would then send off a few angry tweets and feel good that I took down people who disagreed with me. Then I’d go back outside onto the city streets. If I was desiring of sex, I would approach a young woman or two on my way to another crowded cafe, where I’d resume working while watching more people, evaluating the women and judging the foreigners on their style of dress or demeanor.
Once the day’s work was done, I would maybe meet a woman out for a date, in the hopes of having sex with her, or I’d meet with a friend for alcoholic drinks. Hopefully there would be more women around who were drinking, because that would make it easier to extract pleasure from them, but if that failed, I would go home and load up some free hardcore pornography and masturbate to wrap up the day. I pursued pleasure even more intensely on the weekends, when I stepped foot into nightclubs for hours at a time to achieve fornication. Failure here was less of an option than the weekday, and I’d consider it a bad weekend indeed if I went without sex.
Without God, I couldn’t get through a single day without filling it with all sorts of pleasures, and while the specific pleasures would change, I maintained a pleasure routine that was centered around casual sex for nearly two decades. At the peak of my coffee addiction, I was having three cups a day. At the peak of my alcohol use, I was drinking daily. At the peak of my fornication, I was going out five nights a week, working more on sex than my writing. At the peak of my pursuit of travel, I was moving countries every two or three months for a brand new injection of novelty that allowed me to publicly display my worldliness.
A lot of people must have thought I was having the time of my life, because so many took my work for gospel and attempted to emulate my lifestyle, but in actuality I was a slave. I was a slave to pleasure and things of this world. I was a slave to sex and therefore a slave to those who created and controlled the sex culture. I was a slave to various substances and to internet attention. I was physically and psychologically dependent on pleasure, yet slowly and imperceptively, I was getting accustomed to it, paradoxically making it harder to feel anything new as pleasure. A new girl in my bed brought huge amounts of pleasure when I was in my early twenties, but hardly any at all in my late thirties.
When God entered my life, He enlightened me to see that all the angst, frustration, and sadness I had been experiencing were the side effects of pursuing worldly pleasure. The incompleteness I felt in life was due to thinking that the reason for my existence was to “enjoy life.” As rich as the foods I was eating were, I was sustaining myself on thin gruel. Spiritually, I was starving.
Today, I abstain from caffeine, alcohol, fornication, masturbation, and pornography, among other vices, and ask God continually to put nothing in between me and Him. I eat a more restrained diet. I have stopped international travel, and currently write this not from an exotic locale but my mother’s living room. The void created by stopping all those activities has been replaced by prayer, church life, and the hobby of bird watching, which allows me to glorify God and His Lordship over the natural world instead of glorifying myself. The highlight of my week is not going out on Friday night to party with friends, but attending the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning to be close to my Creator and be in fellowship with fellow Christians. The main worldly pleasure I may experience today is the occasional chocolate chip cookie, but even that I try to regulate. I must release myself from the desires of worldly things. I must strive not to exist outside of the condition given to me by God. Whatever situation or state God puts me in, I accept, for He knows what’s best for me better than I know myself.
I say all this to you not to show that I’m moral, for I am likely a greater sinner than you and still have a long way to go, but to show you that worldly pleasure is not needed to feel joy. You only need God and the pleasures that He decides to give you when He sees fit, because I can tell that His pleasures have no side effects and cause no harm. God’s pleasures come in the form of pleasant coincidences, of being given the opportunity to help someone in need, of having a bird you’ve never before seen sing a song to you, or of showing your love for those who are close to you. They do not come in the form of gains, wins, or doses of sex or pride. They come only in service to God, and when I feel that I’m experiencing pleasure outside of that, I ask Him to put these non-spiritual concerns and phenomenon behind me.
I have experienced many lifetimes of pleasure and all it brought was destruction and pain, so I can’t help but groan when someone asks me, “Are you happy?” I know they’re asking about happiness in the material sense, and they have forsaken God for what the false prophets and teachers of this age have taught them happiness is supposed to be about. A happy life is a condemned life, full of pride and sin. A happy life that is dedicated to material benefits will lead to the spiritual abyss. I live only to complete the mission that God has set out for me, whatever that may be, because I aim to no longer be of this world.
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