Entries with tag excuses .

I’m Only Human

As a society, we fluctuate between extremes in how we see humankind and its potential. On the one hand, we love self-help books, we want to fix ourselves and to fulfill our individual dreams. On the other hand, we look at man as just another animal filled with its own sets of instincts and innate desires that need to be met. If we follow these to their natural conclusions, we’re led either to the temptation of pride or to despair. It’s this negative vision of humanity that causes us to say that exasperated expression, “I’m only human!”

 

Saint Irenaeus famously wrote, Gloria Dei est vivens homo, "The glory of God is man fully alive," or,  "the glory of God is a living man." He went on to say that "the life of a man is the vision of God.” So there must be something more to being human than society assumes. There must be something more profound in our human experience, if it’s through being human that we encounter and know the Living God.

 

What are we actually saying when we refer to ourselves as only human? After all, what we say matters, and our words about God and mankind reveal what we believe about ourselves and God. Here are three reasons Orthodox Christians probably shouldn’t say we’re “only human.”

 

1. It denies the work of Christ

 

If we refer to ourselves as “only human,” what does that say about our belief in the work of Jesus Christ? It gets to something deeper: why Jesus even came in the first place. Father Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, has a beautiful reflection on Jesus Christ as a man that’s really worth listening to (along with any and all of his podcasts!).

 

Something truly remarkable happened 2000 years ago. God - in all of His glory and power - became human. He entered into our experience, He took on our humanity and lifted it up, lifted us up into a relationship with Him. And in case we forget this mystery, we confess our belief “in one Lord Jesus Christ...Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.” And on Pascha we hear the words from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). That God became human is key to our understanding of ourselves and God.

 

"Though He was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:6-7). God did all of this, He tells us, so that we "may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). When we have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27) in baptism, when we have been grafted into Christ (John 15: 1; Romans 11:17), when we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1) by receiving Christ in Eucharist, we have this abundant life.

 

Jesus didn’t become human so that we could be “only human”; He became human so that we could be more truly human.

 

2. We lose hope

 

Usually when someone says that they’re “only human,” they’re making a statement of defeat. Somehow there’s no reason to keep on, no reason to grow further, because this state we’re in is inescapable. We might think it’s pointless to fight against our temptations or pointless to surrender and let God work in our lives because each time we try, we fail.

 

But St. Paul tells us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). To internalize a vision of ourselves as only human, we lose hope in the work that God is doing in our lives. So St. Paul reminds us again:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The life of a Christian is a life of hope and expectation. Imperfect though we may be, God can and does work in our lives. We have reason to hope.

 

3. We make excuses

 

As soon as we accept being “only human,” we’re not only losing hope and denying the work of Jesus, but also making an excuse not to move forward. We become like the paralytic who waits for years at the pool but is never healed. To him and to us Jesus asks, “Do you want to be healed?” We identify with the sick man who answers Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me” (John 5:6-7). The sick man’s paralysis and our humanity are not the issue; that’s not what keeps us back. Our excuses help us to avoid answering Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be healed?”

 

So we make excuses and keep ourselves from prayer or from being the hands and feet of Christ in our communities because we’re just one person or because we’re only human. We forget the words of St. Paul when he urges us to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10).

 

Each one of us has limitations; that’s true. But we have to give ourselves an honest evaluation of our motives and the excuses we make. God became man so that we could be raised up into a relationship with Him. He wouldn’t have done that work without also giving us the strength to carry the weight of that responsibility.

 

*****

 

We worship a God who intimately knows the experience of being human. After Christ, our being human is no longer a barrier to an encounter with the Living God. Jesus Christ revealed to us the fullness of what it means to be human and makes that goal of unity with Him possible.

 

How we speak about ourselves as being human reveals what we believe about being human. It can reveal our need to reflect on the work of Christ and His human experience. And while saying, “I’m only human,” can lead us to despair, we have reason to hope. And though we might just want to make excuses, Scripture calls us to move forward with the strength of Jesus Christ - our God Who became human.

 

How does reflecting on the humanity of Christ inspire you to live a Christian life today? What excuses are you making that keep you from moving forward in your walk with Christ?

 

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 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, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Hearing Our Story in a Parable

When I meet a new person, my immediate impulse is to try to find something familiar in the other, something we share in common. It’s my way of connecting, of identifying a shared experience or interest. It breaks down the awkwardness of, “Who’s this person?” and, “What can we talk about besides the weather?” I do the same thing with a book, TV show, or movie. If I’m going to commit to reading or watching something, I want to enter into the experience as more than just a passive observer. If I’m not active in a relationship, in a book or program, I tend to get bored with it and let it go.

 

I’ve found the same to be true of my reading of Scripture and the prayers of the Church. If I read a passage of the Gospel or a prayer and I don’t seek to identify with the words, it remains just a passive experience. It’s like I’m watching it happen to someone behind a glass wall. But when I let myself wonder, “How do Christ’s words apply to me?” then I know Christ is speaking to me. And when I ask, “When have I felt like King David in this Psalm?” his words become mine.

 

This is especially helpful in reading and understanding the parables of Jesus. In the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, Jesus is speaking about the different ways we might receive His message (Matthew 13:1-9,18-23). You could say this is the whole message of the Gospel: of God’s love for us from the Old Testament, through the New Testament and into today through the life of the Church. Jesus calls his message a seed and those of us who hear His message are one of four types of soil.

 

All of us have or will experience being all four types of soil - the path, on the rocks, among thorns, and good soil. At some point in our life, we will struggle with focusing on our faith and balancing the expectations of the world. See how each type applies or has applied to you in your life.

 

1. On the path

 

The first type that Christ talks about in this parable is the seed that fell on the path but was eaten up by birds. Christ says that this represents those who hear the message but don’t understand it and the evil one snatches the message from their hearts (Matthew 13: 4, 19).

 

The first thing I notice here is that we need to – at least in part – understand the message of the Gospel that has been given to us. There will always be elements of mystery, but we cannot rest at knowing what we know today. If we stop learning, if we give up without understanding our faith, we will be like the seed that fell on the path.

 

Even after seminary, I find that there is so much about our faith that I don’t know or don’t understand. When I discover something I’m not sure of, I can either passively ignore the fact, or I can make the effort to learn more. I can ask my question to someone I trust, or I can seek out the answer by reading Scripture, learning about the saints, and in prayer.

 

So many of us struggle to pay attention when we go to church (especially when we’re younger). But if we don’t ask questions and if we don’t understand what we’re doing in the Liturgy, we aren’t going to feel connected or even get the point in going to church. Sometimes you might learn something about God or the Church, and you will be excited about it, but you don't learn more. Maybe you experienced this at camp, and you came back excited about your week of being spiritually plugged in. Or, maybe you have questions about the faith, but you’re not sure who to ask. In this parable, Christ speaks to us and calls us to learn and to get connected so that we can discover the richness of our faith.

 

2. On the rocks

 

Next, Jesus speaks about the seed that fell on the rocks. Because there was little soil, the plants grew but then withered in the sun. Jesus says these represent those who receive the message with joy, but when their faith is tested by hard times they fall away.

 

There are many things that can challenge our faith. Even those who have a strong faith in Jesus Christ can have a hard time handling the death of loved ones, serious sickness, or the experience of being bullied. It can be difficult to sense the presence of a loving God when one’s experience of life is full of so much injustice and pain.

 

All of us are going to face a moment when our faith is challenged by turmoil. Maybe we had a good connection to our Church community as kids, but we never grew very deep in our faith. We had fun at GOYA, but we never encountered Christ as a person we could rely on. Our challenge today is to make sure we aren’t like the rocky soil, with shallow faith, susceptible to falling away from Christ.

 

The life of Christ, the Panagia, and especially the martyrs shows us that being a Christian doesn’t guarantee an easy life. So how do we live with hope in Christ like the martyrs, instead of losing hope and being like rocky soil? I find courage by reading the lives of the saints; they inspire me not to lose hope in tough times. These readings show us how the martyrs and other saints kept their faith in God and His goodness despite the challenges they encountered. No matter what we may be worried about or what we are facing, God can and will help us get through it.

 

3. Among the Thorns

 

The third place that the seeds fell in Jesus’ parable was a place overtaken by thorns. He says that this represents those of us who are overtaken by the cares of this world. In other words, those who were committed to Christ but who let life get the better of us. Jesus describes this as being choked by the cares of the world.

 

There are so many things in our lives that compete for our time and many of them will try to draw our attention away from God. We worry about school, work, family, social events, social status, money. On Sundays, we have conflicts with work and sports, with studying and extracurricular activities. Sunday might even be the one day we get to sleep in during a busy week. “There’s just SO MUCH to do!”

 

“Let us lay aside all earthly cares…,” we hear during the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy. We hear it every Sunday because letting go of all of the noise around us doesn’t come naturally or easily. We have to be reminded to let go of things for an hour or two on Sunday, to just be in the presence of God and not be swallowed up by our to-do list.

 

So many of us today fall into this category of being sown among the thorns. “Life is just so busy,” is so true that it not only keeps us from Church on Sunday, but also keeps us from reading Scripture and from prayer. Eventually, it stops being true and starts to be our excuse from staying away (though we can’t quite remember the reason). We get so burnt out by life that we see Church as just another thing on our to-do list, and we can’t handle anything more. Instead, our faith is truly the one thing that helps keep us afloat, with a clear mind and proper perspective to handle the “cares of this world”.

 

4. The Good Soil

 

The last and ideal situation Christ describes as being good soil where the plant bears a great harvest. The seed didn’t just grow and develop into a good plant, but produced even more seed. The Christian who becomes the good soil is the one who allows the message of Christ to take root in their heart and cultivates a love for and relationship with Christ.

 

Each person is different, and faith and even relationships don’t come as naturally to each person. So while one person might understand the Christian message from a young age, it might take others until they’re a young adult or a parent for it to sink in. The point isn’t when we become this good soil for the Gospel but that we allow God to work in our lives to become that good soil today.

 

To continue with Jesus’ gardening metaphor a moment, it takes a bit of work for some soil to become good soil. If an area is rocky or if there’s hard dirt, you’re going to have to till it up, remove the stones, add fresh soil, and then it will be ready for planting. The same is true for us; there may be things we need to let go of, we may need to have our hardness of heart challenged and our hearts softened as we let God work in our lives.

 

I need to pray each day to remember that I’m not in charge of my life. I need to read Scripture to remember the great depth of God’s love for me. I need to attend the Liturgy to see the rest of Christ’s Body in the faces of my brothers and sisters in Christ and to receive Him in the Eucharist. I’m not good soil on my own. I have to be worked on, and Jesus does that work on me in and through the Church. And the more this is a way of life for me, the more this will naturally bear fruit in all of my relationships.

 

*****

 

The Parable of the Sower and the Seed is a message to all of us to be aware of how we are cultivating a relationship with Christ today. We aren’t perfect, and even as good soil, we are still going to make mistakes. Our goal today is to do our best to live a life that is pleasing to God.

 

When we bring our faith into our daily lives instead of just going to church on Sunday, we see how much God can do when we let Him. We start to ask questions, to be able to endure hard times, to not let life overwhelm us, and to have a peace of mind we cannot have on our own.

 

How have you experienced being these four types of soil? Which of these do you most identify with today? What is something simple you can do each day to make your faith more active?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 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, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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