Entries with tag hope .

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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The Problem with Guilt and Shame

The Lenten period is one of self-reflection and of striving to grow closer to Christ. But the more we look closely at ourselves in the mirror, so to speak, the easier it is to not like what we see. Next thing we know, we’re filled with guilt and shame for our past actions and even our present circumstances. And guilt and shame only leads to more guilt and shame. Before we know it, we’re immobilized with fear and despair, and we’ve forgotten the whole point of our self-reflection.

 

When we start to feel this way, we need to remember that the Christian life is not about sitting in despair over our own brokenness. Christ gives us joy because in Him we no longer have to bear our sin. We see the distance we have yet to walk in our journey towards the Kingdom, but we rejoice knowing that we do not walk of our own strength.

 

How can we develop this healthy vision of self-reflection and repentance and not get trapped in the cycle of shame and guilt? Here are three things that can help.

 

1. Run to Jesus

 

When we feel guilt and shame, it may be hard to feel and accept God’s presence with us. We compare the sense of our own unworthiness with the greatness of God’s holiness and we want to get even further away from Him. We want to isolate instead of running towards the only One we most need.

 

I still remember my first liturgy after I had been chrismated in 2005. I had spent months attending liturgy, not yet able to receive Communion, but so looking forward to this moment. It was the Pascha liturgy and the sanctuary filled with lit candles as we were celebrating the Resurrection. Yet my mind kept worrying about my candle which, unlike everyone else’s, was billowing black smoke. Was this a sign of my unworthiness? I had to let this go so that I could focus on Christ.

 

When we are holding on to a feeling of guilt, when we’re in a rut, we’re frozen in place. We’re stuck because we’re burdened by more than we can handle on our own. So before we can run to Jesus, we have to first listen to St. Peter who writes, “cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). St. Peter knew, from his own experience, what life was like when he tried to hold on to fears and guilt.  When he ran to Jesus, he did the impossible – St. Peter walked on water. And later, St. Peter also had to navigate his own guilt and despair after he denied Christ (Matthew 26:75). So we need to keep our focus on Christ, run to Him, and let Him bear the weight of our sin.

 

We can’t afford to hold on to our guilt and shame, we need to run to Jesus. But once we get to Him, what do we say?

 

2. It's more than saying “sorry”

 

Prayer is our opportunity to let go of what we’re feeling, to share our hearts with Christ. But the natural response for many of us is to start with saying, “sorry.” Next thing we know, we’re swearing off sin and making promises we’re not sure we can keep.

 

But repentance – mending our relationship with God or with others – is more than saying, “sorry.” I’ve learned I need to be specific: “forgive me for ____.” Right then though, shame kicks back in, and we’re stuck begging forgiveness from God as if He were a merciless king. This isn’t repentance, it’s fear. Once we’ve asked forgiveness, we need to move on to praise and gratitude for all that He has done for us. This keeps us focused on Christ instead of focused on ourselves.

 

Our personal repentance is lived out as we commit to specific action for today. God knows our hearts, He sees our failings, but He also desires the best for us. Once we have asked forgiveness, we need to trust that God has forgiven us. Emboldened by this trust in Jesus Christ, we will be able to see our past sins as opportunities for growth.

 

3. No condemnation in Christ

Too often, our world is focused on blame and punishment. And living in the world, we in the Church have the habit of applying the world’s way of thinking to our relationship with Christ. We approach our own repentance either as an escape from punishment on the one hand or an admission of our own unworthiness such that we’re beyond hope. We forget that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

 

When a sick person comes into a hospital, the doctor isn’t there to be the judge and prosecutor – he is there to heal. Similarly, when we approach Christ with an attitude of humility (acknowledging our need for healing), He is there to heal us. More often than not, we are our own worst judge. We somehow think that our sins are the worst and therefore unforgivable. Or, we see ourselves as lost causes, irredeemable because thus far the healing hasn’t quite stuck.

 

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ because they recognize that in Christ, they have everything they need. For those of us who have chosen Christ, who have put on Christ in baptism, and who choose Him each day, we know that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). It is no longer our strength that holds us up, but the strength of Jesus Christ that bears our sins and takes them away.

 

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave” (St John Chrysostom's Paschal Sermon).

 

Shame and guilt keeps us looking at ourselves, condemning ourselves, instead letting Christ pick us back up in repentance.

 

*****

 

The hymns and teachings of the Orthodox Church work to instill in us humility in the place of pride. We read that we’re the “worst of sinners” and we pray that God have “mercy on me a sinner.” But living in a world focused on “who’s to blame” and “what’s their punishment,” we can start to think that we’re irredeemable, falling into the grip of guilt, shame, and ultimately despair.

 

Instead, the Church calls us to humility so that we will focus on being honest with ourselves and not looking at others’ faults. Guilt and shame are not the answer – in fact they keep us further from Christ. “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

 

Self-reflection, especially the kind the Church calls us to have during Great Lent, should lead us to run to Christ, ask for forgiveness, and then take the actions necessary to live differently today. And finally, we ought to remember that in Christ, we are not condemned.

 

How has shame and guilt kept you from growing closer to Christ? How could gratitude help you to see God’s presence in your life?

 

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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Dancing Anxiously at Life's Circumference

 

The last couple weeks have been incredibly stressful to me for a number of reasons, but the most pressing one for me right now is the fact that on Friday, I am slated to take the National Marriage and Family Therapy Licensing Exam.

And I’m feeling dreadfully unprepared for it.

I’ve been spending hours on hours studying, taking (and failing) practice quizzes and exams. What’s more, it has been a two-and-a-half year journey to this point since I moved to Arizona as the requirements for licensure are different in Arizona than they were in California.

I’ve had to jump through all kinds of hoops, gain a lot more hours of clinical practice, take a few different classes, compile a ton of paperwork, and pay thousands of dollars more to get to this point.

Needless to say: there is a lot riding on this test.

There is so much wrapped into this for me that I actually can’t really think about or do much else with my time. I feel anxious. I feel dumb when I fail the practice tests.

I just feel overwhelmed by the possibility of not passing this exam.

Sadly, this test is at the center of my life right now.

Or rather, I’m dancing around on the circumference of my life, and neglecting to dwell in the True Center: Christ.

So much of what I’m putting meaning into right now is leading up to a four-hour window in which I will either leave being able to practice Marriage and Family Therapy or I will leave having to retake the exam and try again. Very little effort has gone into seeking the Lord, trusting that I am His beloved child regardless of whether I pass this exam.

In reality, this test is minor. It is at the edges of my life, part of what I do, not constitutive of who I am.

Who I am is Christ’s. I belong to Christ. It is this identity that is at the center of my life, but I spend very little time dwelling in that center, trusting that the Lord has got a hold of me.

So I bounce around on the circumference of life, worrying about a test, or how loud the kids are, or how much work I have to do still, or how tired I am, blah blah blah. Being so distracted from the center of my life, it’s no wonder that my overall feeling is one of anxiety! I’m constantly trying to control things that come and go, that change with circumstances!

“Jesus Christ,” the Scriptures tell us, “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). I find this particularly comforting because rarely are yesterday, today, and forever all the same. They are constantly changing, and each day holds its own set of battles and surprises. But amidst the chaos, amidst the storm, Jesus Christ remains steadfast.

My identity, my value, my life does not rest in whether or not I pass my MFT exam. I would like to, of course, but this isn’t where my life comes from. Rather, in the words of St. Paul, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Christ alone is my life. Christ alone is the center, and it is that reality that allows me to navigate the storms on the circumference of my life. But it would also be nice if He helps me remember everything I’ve studied.

Photo Credits: Depositphotos

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

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"Cubs Win!" and Other Election Day Thoughts - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

You guys.

The Cubs won the World Series.

Did you ever think that you would see the day? I certainly didn’t! But lo, and behold. Here we are, and the Commissioner’s Trophy has found its home in Wrigleyville.

I’m perfectly ready to die happy.

As I was watching the events of postseason baseball unfold, it continued to dawn on me that there were whole generations of people who hoped for this day and never saw it.

108 years is a long time!

More than a century’s worth of Cubs fans have longed for this day, and many of them died without seeing it become a reality. Even though Cubs fans tend to assume that the Cubs would never, in fact, win the World Series, it was always a nice to imagine Don Zimmer, Dusty Baker, or Lou Piniella holding that trophy high above their heads, but until now, a Cubs manager winning the World Series was just a dream.

We now live in a different world, and it’s all thanks to a 10-inning Game 7.

We now live in a world where veteran losers are the champs.

We now live in a world where curses are broken.

We now live in a world where we are free once more to believe in the impossible.

Generations of Cubs fans have held onto hope that we would see this day, and now it is here, despite the fact that at times (most especially during that Game 7, eighth inning, two-out rally by the Indians) it looked like the curse was still very much a real thing.

We held on. And now we can rejoice that once again the Cubs are champions.

As Christians, I think we could learn a thing or two from Cubs fans.

We have to hold on to hope.

Today is Election Day, and there is a lot of fear and uncertainty going around. We may believe that America stands on the brink of destruction (regardless of the candidate to be chosen). We may believe that every empire has to fall eventually, and this is just the beginning of the end.

Well, I can’t say anything about that. Maybe.

Maybe this is the end for America. I don’t know. I hope not.

But I do know something. It definitely is not the end of God’s Providence.

When I go to bed tonight, and when I wake up on November ninth, God will still be King, regardless of who has been elected President.

The Kingdom is coming. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to see. When things are so politically uncertain and somewhat frightening, it’s difficult to be like 108 years worth of Cubs fans and to say, “I know this looks bad, but our day will come.”

Millennia of Christians have held to this belief, and they have gone to their graves hoping that they would see Christ’s Kingdom come in glory. They didn’t see it happen in their lives, but it is going to happen one day.

The saints rebuked dangerous leaders, they endured countless tortures, they led lives of prayerful solitude in caves, all because they held onto the hope that Christ had defeated death and was coming back. They longed to see Him face to face.

No matter how scary it gets, no matter how dark the world around us seems, we who are called to be saints must hold fast to Jesus, trusting that He is the King, that He is robed in majesty, and that even if it means waiting for 108 or 108,000 years, He is going to come back and His Kingdom shall have no end.

Years of Christians have held to this belief, trusting that they would see the day when all things would be made right, in which death would be no more.

Cubs fans would make excellent Christians; they’ve already learned how to hope in the face of what seems to be impossibility. But deep down, Cubs fans knew that the Cubs’ day was coming, and we know, too, that the Lord’s day is coming.

We might have to put up with some long days and painful years as we wait and long for Christ to establish His never-ending Kingdom, but one thing is for sure, “It’s Gonna Happen.”

#FlyTheXC #ImWithHim #IMeanJesus

Photo Credit: 

Wrigley: Frank Gruber Flickr via Compfight cc

Martyr's Last Prayer: Wikimedia Commons

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

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That Time I Thought My Daughter Was Dying

I’ve lately been writing a lot about the need for courage in the face of death. A couple weeks ago, my own courage in the face of death was put to the test when, after hitting her head on a concrete floor, my beautiful 13-month-old baby girl passed out for roughly a minute.

Nothing could have prepared me for this, and I’m honestly still trying to make sense of it. It is every father’s nightmare.

It happened while my family and a bunch of our friends were out to lunch following the Divine Liturgy. Having just participated in the Lord’s Table, we extended our Eucharistic community through the lifting up of our lunch table.

My baby had just started walking a couple weeks prior, so she was still very new to the whole biped way of life (aren’t we all?). I was walking right behind her, half-distracted by the goings-on of the restaurant as well as the Cubs game on television. She leaned up against a slick, vinyl bench, and down she went, smacking the back of her head square on the ground.

At this point, other than being scared and in pain, she seemed fine. Just a normal, albeit hard fall, I thought. She started crying, as one would expect, but as I picked her up and walked her to her mommy, she must have been unable to get a breath in the midst of her deep pain, which is when her eyes rolled back, and she passed out in my arms.

Even writing this now, I struggle to put the words down, horrified and fighting back tears as images of my infant daughter, limp and unconscious, run through my head.

I have never been more afraid than I was then.

I have never felt more vulnerable than I did at that moment.

I realized just how swiftly my “happiness” could be taken away from me and how fragile everything that I’m working to build for my family and myself really is.

Obviously, no parent wants to see their kid pass out, no parent wants to see their child die, and unfortunately, far too many parents have to go through such tragedy. I have several friends who have lost babies to miscarriage, SIDS, or some other fatal disease.

And after the fainting incident, I can honestly say that how these people found ways through the pain that I only momentarily was afraid of…well, it’s beyond me.

And I think that’s just the point. It is beyond any of us.

The only explanation I have is that somehow these parents who have lost their children believe, deep in their souls, that life is stronger than death. They bravely believe that Christ is stronger than death.

They must have a firm conviction that Christ truly has defeated death, or they are at least actively practicing this conviction, leaning into the discomfort, the pain, the tragedy of losing a child.

These courageous parents choose love and hope, trusting in Christ even when faced with the inescapable reality of death. These are people whom I wish to emulate.

Because the reality of our world is bleak.

It seems like almost every day that we see some news story about someone (or even a bunch of someones) dying far too soon and far too violently. Why do I think that I am impervious to the threat of having my own heart broken?

Death is coming for me and for my children. The only hope is Jesus Christ.

And I felt the need to have that hope, a need to trust the Christ is mightier than anything that could take my baby away from me. I felt the need for that hope when death came knocking at the door of my faith and the only answer that came was the hollow echo of nothingness.

I realized how truly, deeply afraid I am, how much I continually trust in myself to keep my family safe, to keep myself safe. But no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I convince myself that I can protect my children, the reality is that I can’t.

And that terrifies me.

So more than having a lesson or some kind of thesis with this blog post, I write it more as a confession. I write it to confess that I struggle, that my faith gets battered up against the cold, hard reality of death. Or rather, my lack of faith is exposed by the moments that terrify me, that truly deeply shake me to my core.

And I write it as a request because I know I’m not alone. That we can pray for one another that we can learn to hold each other close as we lift each other up to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One in whom we must choose to hope daily, for He alone is the Resurrection and the Life.

Photo Credits:

Dark Path: Desositphotos

Jesus: Despositphotos

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 first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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