Entries with tag doubt .

Yes, I Read *The Benedict Option*

Recently, one of my friends read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and strongly suggested that I do likewise. I was a bit hesitant, to be sure, feeling like I was about to be inundated with political lingo and reasons that the Religious Conservative Right was under siege from the Secular Liberal Left, and frankly - ain’t nobody got time for that.

I have enough problems. I thought. I don’t need to hear all the bad news about how the Church is under attack. And so I wrote it off.

Then I learned that many people I love and respect have been wrestling through Dreher’s work, and so I suddenly felt that perhaps it was time that I give it a go, and so I decided to follow suite, and bought The Benedict Option on Audible.

While a review of Dreher’s book is beyond the scope of this post, I can say that my time with The Benedict Option has awakened something within me: a longing for a truly Christian community. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself, a part of a group of people that are committed to living out the virtues and struggles of the Christian life together.

I think one of the biggest problems I face in my own Christian life is that of isolation. I frequently feel like my spirituality is something that I’m responsible for muscling through on my own, and so I despair. I feel lonely in my striving to follow Christ, and it becomes all too easy to let myself off the hook when it comes to the struggle that is inherent in learning to be a disciple of Christ, of learning to deny myself, take up the cross, and follow Him.

I know that the Church exists as a rampart of faith, a place where we can shore up courage as we learn to battle the passions together, but functionally, it doesn’t really seem like that. For me, it often feels more like a weekly gathering of like-minded people who take refuge in being kind-of-like one another. In part, this is due to the fact that so many of us live so far from our parishes that establishing any kind of day-in-day-out rhythm of life is simply impossible. So each Sunday we come together and return to our individual huts where we are responsible for holding on for another seven days. And frankly, this is simply getting tiring for me.

It’s not that I don’t believe. It’s just that I don’t have the strength to act like it on my own. And so, as I’m reading The Benedict Option, I find myself longing for a community of faith, a community that is dedicated to the teaching of Christ, committed to living out what it is to be a disciple of the Lord.

I don’t mean this as laziness on my part. It’s not that I don’t want to do it on my own. It’s just that I can’t. I get too weighed down by the demands of my daily life: waking up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, waking up again to the demands of a hungry toddler, needing to get ready for work, maintaining a caseload, feeling guilty about not making it to the gym more, and amidst all this, trying to be the perfect husband who helps out around the house as much as possible while having a keen financial plan that will allow us to make a down payment on a house in a year...well, it’s just a lot. Then when someone tells me that I have to say my prayers, spend an hour in silence, and prepare for confession...honestly, those just seem like more things on top of an already very long to-do list.

Again, it’s not that I don’t want to do these things; I simply don’t have the energy on my own.

But I have this imagination that if I were part of a community, a real community of Orthodox Christians where our kids played together after school and we gathered together for evening prayers or reader’s vespers on the regular, somehow this would make it all feel more manageable.

I’m just tired. I’m tired of believing on my own. I’m tired of feeling like I have to keep my head above water by my own effort. I understand that this is an essential component of being a disciple, but it cannot be the entirety of it. If the monks are a part of a community that is committed to prayer as a way of life and the central grounding point of their life together; why shouldn’t lay people in the world want the same thing?

And so, I think I’m going to make this my quest in the next year or so. I want to make an intentional effort to build a community of Christians committed to living out the Gospel. I don’t mean that I simply want more “church events.” I want the Church, the assembled body of believers to be the center of my life so that I may continue to strive to draw near to the Lord with the fear of God, in faith and in love.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, homebrewer, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Why Supporting Doubt Helps Develop Faith

If my travels across the country have taught me anything, it's that deep fear and anxiety sit at the foundation of most ministry work, especially ministry with youth and young adults.  Clergy, parents, and youth workers are terrified that young people will leave the Church.  

​On their one hand, their fears are certainly reasonable.  We've all seen survey after survey indicating the "rise of the nones" and the increasing drift of millennials away from the life of the Church.  

Yet our response is often unreasonable, and quite dangerous.  

Our fear of losing young people can lead us into forcing them to attend youth group, and threatening them to attend Sunday Liturgy.  Sometimes we use a “bait-and-switch," luring them in with the promise of pizza and then blindsiding them a dose of Orthodoxy. And if they give us any reason to believe that they're struggling with uncertainty, it can lead us to act swiftly to "fix" the problem with tedious lectures or stern warnings.  

Unfortunately, our responses to this issue of doubt, in particular, actually do more to push young people away from the Church.  

A recent article by Larry Barnett titled "The Need for Apologetics: What the Data Reveal About the Crisis of Faith among Young Christians in America" (*Philosophia Christi*, Vol. 17, No. 2. (2015): 473-87) indicates that "unresolved doubts and unanswered questions about Christianity are key factors in the movement of so many young adults away from Christianity."

In a nutshell, his study found that "doubt was the single best predictor of non-Christian affiliation and impaired spiritual health."  Doubt, when mishandled, is the biggest factor pushing young people away from the Church.  And it’s a factor that become more serious over time.

Though Christians have struggled with misgivings and uncertainty in every generation, it appears that young people today are both (1) more likely to doubt and (2) less likely to identify with the Church as a result.  

Over time, doubt has become both more widespread and more potent.  And, as our culture evolves, it's striking those who are most vulnerable.

As Barnett writes, “Doubt has a stronger adverse impact on those who are (1) younger, (2) more highly educated, (3) widely knowledgeable, (4) high achieving, (5) more active online, or (6) who have more religiously diverse friends."

Yet as Barnett's research indicates, and the experience of the Church confirms, doubt is not a death sentence.  People are led away from Christ not because of their questions, but because of our (flawed) response to them.  

Maintaining our faith in the person of Jesus Christ is very difficult.  An unexpected death or a terrible illness can cause us to challenge everything we once took for granted, including our relationship with God.  The Lord can seem a lot less loving, and perhaps totally absent, from beside a hospital bed or freshly dug grave.  

Yet youth and young adults aren't the only ones who struggle with doubts.  I've certainly wrestled with them, and you almost certainly have as well.  And we're in good company: if you flip through the Psalms, you'll find several anguished and deeply heartfelt prayers written in the midst of great struggle.  

Psalm 88 in particular doesn't even have the benefit of a happy resolution; it's eighteen verses of anguish and doubt, of painful crying out to the Lord with no hope of answer.  

Yet misgivings may even arise absent deep personal tragedy.  We may be frustrated that our attempts at prayer seem dry, that participating in the services seems impossible, that the Bible and Church traditions seem irrelevant.  

Yet these are not bad things in themselves.  They are struggles that are born of attempted engagement with the life of the Church and the perception of our current limits.  They are, in other words, invitations to walk with those who feel lost and help lead them out of their anguish.  

Yet, to do so, we must first of all be brave enough to converse with doubt. We must be good listeners who are confident to let people express their doubts free of correction and judgment.  Sometimes, people simply need the space to be frustrated or confused or angry, or a shoulder to cry on.

And if they do have questions for us, we need better answers than "because you're supposed to" or "because otherwise you'll go to hell." If we don’t have an answer, we need to be honest enough to admit it: “I don’t know, but let’s look and learn together.” 

And then we need to follow through.

If we can help people truly encounter God rather than an oversimplified and mean-spirited caricature of Him, we'll be surprised by the Lord's capacity to enter a person's life and transform it.  

As Barnett put it, "if we will passionately pursue our duty to doubters—answering their questions and offering them good reasons to believe—then we can expect a bright future."

Of course, this is much easier said than done.  We can't offer people answers without knowing them ourselves.  And, more fundamentally, we can't introduce people to God if we don't know Him first.  

We no longer live in a world where people will remain engaged in the Faith despite serious misgivings.  They will ask questions, and not simply from the Church; technology offers people simple and easy answers to almost any question.  "If doubters fail to get answers from Christians, they are likely to search for information online."

This is a big reason why so many of our efforts at Y2AM have focused on the development of online resources.  With close to one hundred episodes of "Be the Bee" now available for instant viewing, along with our newest video series, "The Trench," and our new podcast, "Pop Culture Coffee Hour," and an extensive archive of blogs and articles and other resources, we're offering both young and not-so-young Christians an extensive library of resources to help nourish their Faith, answer their questions, and introduce them to Christ.

We even have episodes that specifically deal with difficult issues of faith and doubt, and the perception that Church can be boring or irrelevant.  We aren't afraid to tackle difficult questions because we know the stakes are too high.

The seeds that Christ is planting in the hearts of people all over the world are slowly beginning to bear fruit.  We keep receiving messages from parents excited to learn and grow in Christ with their children; from teenagers and even young children who are excited to get to know the Lord better; from new converts who have finally heard the Gospel and are excited to become a part of the Lord's Risen Body. 

As Christians, our walk to the Kingdom is a bumpy road.  And just as we have benefited from the patience and guidance of our fellow believers, just as we have worked through our own questions and struggles, we need to make room for people to doubt.  We need to offer them the support and answers they need.  

And know that we at Y2AM - as co-strugglers and often as co-doubters - are right there with you, ready to ask and answer questions, ready to offer whatever help we can.

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Image credits:

1. Fear Has Big Eyes

2. Man Raising Eyebrow

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Steve is the Director of Y2AM.  Perhaps best known as the host of "Be the Bee," he's a graduate of Yale University, Fordham University School of Law, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.  You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Two Things to Remember in the Face of Doubt

Kids have an almost inherent optimism, a belief that stories have happy endings and that everything will eventually turn out okay. We’re raised on fairy tales where, in the end, the dragon is slain and everyone lives happily ever after.

But as we get older, our optimism fades. We become “realists” who believe that we reap what we sow, that things don’t necessarily turn out well in the end. We’re ground down by the difficulties of life and, rather than have faith that the world is ruled by a loving God who will provide for us, we begin to turn inward, relying more and more on ourselves as our trust in God begins to whittle down.

After all, it seems only natural that this turn towards self-sufficiency would eventually impact the way we see the role of God in our lives.

We begin to struggle with faith, as we search for the relevance of God and the Church in our lives. Why trust in God if I’m told to be self-reliant? Why bother with religion, which starts to feel more like the relic of a less enlightened age?

Jesus becomes, at best, a nice guy; the Bible, at best, a collection of fables. Church becomes a thing I occasionally do on Sunday morning, if at all.

But can it all really be that simple? Would millions of people die for a fable? Would so many continue to put their faith in God based on nothing more than nostalgia?

Or might it be that Jesus Christ is just as relevant and accessible to us today as He was 2000 years ago?

If you’ve struggled with doubt, or know someone whose faith doesn’t feel so firm right now, read on. We’ll reflect on a few ways we can respond in the face of doubt

1. Questions should lead to encounter

There seem to be two ways we can ask a question. The first assumes we’re looking for information we don’t have. The second assumes we already have the answer, and that we’re asking to be proven right.

When it comes to questions of faith, I find it most helpful to start with humility and genuine curiosity. We should ask about faith and question what the Church teaches not to prove it wrong (as if we know better) but to learn what the Church can teach us.

And it would be a mistake to seek this lesson from just anyone. If you’re interested in learning more about Physics, would you go to an English professor? Or would you seek out the people who have the most experience with the topic, like physicists? In the same way, when we have faith questions, it makes more sense to go to experienced and trusted Church leaders than to rely on those with no more knowledge than we have.

I think many young Orthodox Christians are scared to ask questions. Maybe, when they were little, they asked their parents a question during liturgy and were hushed. Or perhaps, when they are looking for a thought out answer to a difficult faith question, they’re used to receiving a rushed or overly simplistic answer. Or they’re given the “we just have to believe…” line, which doesn’t inspire anything but frustration.

Yet questions, if honestly addressed, can lead to encounter rather than frustration.

To get to know my grandmother, I had to ask a lot of questions. I couldn’t ask her these questions, directly, because she passed away when I was two weeks old. So instead, I have talked to my parents, my aunt, and my sister. I sought out photos of her, and cherished finding notes written by her. I visit her grave, and I pray for her rest in Christ. I encounter her in my seeking to know her. And I know her through asking about her.

The same happens with us and Jesus Christ. Not being one of the original twelve disciples doesn’t keep us from getting to know the Lord. We can encounter Him today, but we have to seek Him out and learn who He was and who He is. By God’s grace, we have the opportunity to know Him not only in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments, but also in the lives of those transformed by His presence in the Church.

And these lives are a more powerful witness than any argument we can come up with.

2. Trust in transformed lives

The first Christians knew Christ during His earthly ministry. The next generation never knew Him face-to-face, but they encountered Him through the lives of those who had. Saint Paul never got to hear Christ preach, but He encountered Him in the Church, through the Holy Spirit.

What made so many people willing to die for their faith in Christ? What continues to give Christians this courage? The first martyrs had either known Jesus, or had been taught by those who had. And, for centuries since, the Church has been strengthened by the witness of those before us and in seeing lives transformed by faith.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that a time was coming when people would no longer have to go to a certain place to encounter God, but would worship Him in spirit and truth. Now, God makes Himself known not only in Jerusalem or on Mount Sinai, but in the heart of every Christian who unites himself to Him. And the more a person grows to know Him, the more His grace is apparent in their lives. The clothing and even the shadow of St Peter healed people (Acts 5:15). Can this happen today? 

I have been blessed to go on pilgrimage throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I visited sites from the life of Christ and venerated relics of saints. They weren’t just places or bones. God made Himself known in those places. His grace was so strong in these saints’ lives that He continues to heal and work wonders through their bodies. What’s more is that people continue to grow in holiness today through living lives devoted to Christ in the Church. Saints are not people of the past; we are all called to holiness today. 

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Faith is about more than getting knowledge ABOUT something. It’s gaining knowledge OF Someone. It’s growing in a relationship with a Person, not just learning facts about Him. That means that faith takes effort. But it’s also a gift that God gives us through His grace. When we take our little baby steps towards Him, He gives us the grace to keep moving forward.

So ask questions. Encounter Christ through seeking to know Him. Have faith in Him through seeing His transforming presence in the lives of the saints and those around us. Faith isn’t just something we have when we don’t know the answer: it’s an action.

What are you doing to encounter Christ today? Are your eyes open to see His grace at work around you? 

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit:

Einstein and Tagore

Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Sam Williams 2009

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Being Brave in Uncertainty - First Sunday of Luke

If you’ve never read them, I highly recommend Fr Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living. Lately, one in particular has been bouncing around in my head:

“Face reality.”

This may be one of the hardest maxims to follow because, all-too-often, rather than face reality, we place ourselves in a story of our own making.

Noted author Brené Brown (you may have seen her incredible TED talk) has described the tendency we have to “make the uncertain certain.” In her newest book, Rising Strong, she explores how, rather than confront the intense pain of uncertainty, we escape into a false certainty that we construct.

For example, I usually expect my wife to be home at a certain time in the evening. If she’s late, I begin to worry. So (as dysfunctional as it may be), I begin to imagine all the terrible things that must have happened to her. Of course when she arrives, the story is never as gruesome as I imagined;  she simply stopped to vacuum the van.

I consistently respond to any kind of uncertainty in the same over-anxious way: I write an ending to a story I tell myself, all because imagining the worst is somehow less painful than living in the discomfort of uncertainty.

I try to imagine what might be going on instead of living in the pain of my own reality. The reality that I have no idea what is going on.

And that uncertainty terrifies me.

So in response (and I don’t think I’m alone here) I make up a false reality, because for some reason, that false reality feels better than true reality – that things are remarkably uncertain.

I think this may be one of the reasons that despair is such a strong temptation and such a destructive force. It writes an ending to the story that simply isnt true. In Christ, we see that death does not get the final say. The powers of darkness do not win.

Yet this reality is hard to remember when we’re feeling ourselves being broken by the overwhelming events in our lives: the loss of a relationship, the end of a job, the death of a parent.

All of these things leave us vulnerable, exposed, and suddenly the uncertainty of Christs Resurrection is palpable. It is almost impossible not to wonder (at least a little bit), Will Jesus really win in the end? Will everything really be okay?

We resolve our doubt by sinking into the certainty of despair. 

We may think that the faithful move in this situation is to instead rush to a premature confidence in the Resurrection; we may be tempted on Good Friday to pretend we are living on Easter Sunday, to step around the Cross rather than through it. Of course, that’s impossible: there is a whole day between the Cross and the Resurrection.

A day where Jesus is just laying in the tombdead.

Where He is just gone.

In the Gospel reading this Sunday, we will see the Theotokos and St. John standing at the foot of Christ’s Cross, gazing upon the pierced and dying body of the Lord.

Standing right in the middle of terrible uncertainty.

After all, the One that they hoped would save Israel was now crucified, broken, and dying. How could they not have wondered (at least a little bit) whether Jesus really had known what He was saying when He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19)?

The temptation in such a moment would be to either deny reality or rush to a premature conclusion. On the one hand, one could easily find false comfort in optimism: Come on, Jesus. You can get off that Cross. Do it, buddy! And on the other hand, it may be too easy to find false comfort in despair: “Oh great, I knew it. I knew He was a phony.”

It’s much harder to say, “The One I love is crucified. I dont understand., but Im here.” Living in the disappointment, living in the loss, living in the uncertainty of this is way harder than delusion, on the one hand, or despair, on the other.

And yet the Theotokos and St. John just stand there, rather than escape into a false, imagined reality. 

I wonder: however, how many of us are comfortable with this? I know I’m not. I frequently want to use my faith to resolve my anxiety instead of leaning into the fact that sometimes things just hurt, and that they might hurt for a long time.

That before Sunday comes both Friday (the day of dying) and Saturday (the day of being dead).

Each of us is faced with crosses and “holy Saturdays” of our own, where we feel stretched, broken, beaten, even dead. Where we simply cannot imagine that things will get any better any time soon. On these days, its too easy to rush to escape the tension....

But I can’t shake the feeling that uncertainty can somehow nourish faith, that somehow doubt is not the opposite of faith, but is rather the breeding ground for it. So maybe we’re actually being called to lean into the uncertainty, rather than to resolve it.

Maybe we’re called to sit with Him in the tomb for a while.

That’s what the Theotokos and St. John did. They didn’t seek to save Christ from the Cross, or lose faith in Him when things really seemed uncertain. They stayed with Him rather than flee into a world of imaged certainty. Because, as uncomfortable as it may be, this escape makes us miss out on the opportunity to be with Christ where He is, whether its on the Cross. or in Hades.

Perhaps, in moments of uncertainty, the Lord invites us to trust in Him with all our heart, and not to rely on our own knowledge (Prov. 3:5). Perhaps the call to “face reality” is simply this, simply leaning on Christ while fully experiencing the weight of our disappointments and confusion, there at the brink of despair, as we gaze into the chasm of our own limitation and weakness.

The only question that remains is whether or not we actually have the courage to sit in the dark for a bit, and to hope, to trust that the Lord will act to deliver us from death and despair.

Because any deliverance we can offer is simply imaginary. 

Photo Credit:

Anxious Guy: zetson via Compfight cc

Doubt: y3rdua via Compfight cc

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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For more:

For more on doubt, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

 

When Atheism Was Easier

From the time I was 16 years old until more recently than I care to admit, if asked, I likely would have told you I was an atheist.  I wasn’t really, but, when asked about my beliefs, I found it easier to call myself an atheist than to say I’m Orthodox.  Even in a city with a thriving Catholic population, I found from an early age that it raised fewer questions to assert that there is no God than to claim I was a Christian.  I had always considered my faith my own, and I wasn’t the type of person who wanted to have to discuss it too much, particularly from a defensive point.  That mentality stuck with me for most of my young adult life.

Then, when I accepted this position with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I suddenly had a bunch of people asking about what specifically I was leaving home to do.  And for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a simple answer for them.  I consider myself an open and honest person, but when it came time to tell people I had decided to make the Church an even bigger part of my life, I panicked.  

The first few people I told, close friends and coworkers, were very receptive.  They knew me well as a person and understood my relationship with the Church.  They were all very happy for me.  But then people I knew less well wanted to know, and I realized that I was scrambling to explain that, while I was working for “a church,” I was still a normal person.  My Orthodoxy raised all the same questions I hadn’t wanted to answer at a younger age, and I still didn’t feel equipped to answer them. Before I knew it, I found myself dropping the word “Orthodox” from my job description altogether.  

It felt like I was 16 all over again and declaring stubbornly: “I’m an atheist.”

Because that’s easier than the alternative.  

I never saw myself as someone who denies my relationship with Christ.  I wear my cross, my social media is littered with churchy posts, I talk about my father (the priest) more than people care to hear.  It’s not like I’m hiding it, at least when the context feels safe.  But now, when asked about my job, I find myself getting defensive and insecure.  I want to avoid having to answer the questions that inevitably come with identifying as a Christian or, at the very least, make sure everyone hears my disclaimer: “yeah, I’m Orthodox, but don’t worry, I’m still cool.”  

But people do worry, and in the last few months I’ve gotten very used to people shutting me out as soon as I mention religion.  When I first started looking for church jobs, a conversation with an acquaintance came to a crashing halt when he assertively declared his shock--he didn’t know I was religious, since he doesn’t get along with religious people and hates religion.  Similarly, I had another person mentioned to me that, the first time he came across my social media, he didn’t think we would get along based on my many Church related posts.  We’re dear friends now, but that initial reaction was pretty rough to hear.    

Those interactions weren’t the norm, thank God, but they also weren’t comforting.  It felt like every time I wanted to talk about my religious involvement, I needed to add a cheerful thumbs up and a, “but hey, I’m still normal.”  And that, even just last week, seemed like a lot of work.

That’s when I realized that no matter how comfortable I thought I was in my Faith, I was clearly not as comfortable as I needed to be.  And that’s something I’ve been struggling with every day since.  Even for Peter, who was a disciple of Christ and saw His work, being a believer and owning up to being one was a struggle.  

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.  (Luke 22:54-62)

What I didn’t know at the time of my first identity struggle (and what I’m trying to remember now) is that no matter how much easier it seems to avoid having the hard conversations about myself and my identity, it doesn’t do anyone any good.  It’s not helpful to the people that are trying to get to know me as a person, and it’s particularly not good for my relationship with my Christ.  

Because I do believe, even when I’m too insecure to admit it.  

Of course, being aware of this bad habit and breaking it are two different things. I’m very willing to be open about my faith with people I already know, since it’s such an important part of who I am--maybe it’s because I feel safer around them. But I’m still struggling to be honest about my faith with strangers, especially when it comes to explaining exactly what I do with the Church.  I still finding myself referring to my job in generic terms; only as I get to know them do I mention religion.  Reluctantly. 

It’s a work in progress.  

But living Orthodoxy all day every day is an important part of who I am, and one day I hope I’ll be able to exclaim (with all the conviction I lacked as a 16 year old) that, “I am Orthodox.” 

What about you? Do you ever find it easier to hide your faith in God? Why do you think that is, and how do you deal with that struggle? Leave a comment below!

 

Charissa Giannopoulos is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.

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For more:

For more on belief in God, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

 

For more on faith and doubt, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

 

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