Entries with tag hope .

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?

 

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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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Finding Hope Even in 2016

As many of you probably have, I’ve struggled to keep a good thought in what has proven to be a challenging year. Between the Great and Holy Council, and the US Presidential election, there has been a constant stream of news (both Church and secular) to follow and to worry about.  And even now, the innocent continue to die in the streets both at home and abroad, and politicians continue to bicker.

 

In need of some guidance, I opened up the Bible and found Chapter 8 of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. As is often the case, this was exactly what I needed to read. I needed to be reminded that there is always hope in Christ: that there is hope regardless of our present circumstances.

 

So what did I read in the book of Romans that gave me strength? What was it that helped me not to ignore the suffering and injustices of this world, but to find courage instead of despair even in the midst of it all?

 

1. Fear not, God is our Father

 

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, father.’” Romans 8:15

 

In our baptism, we were adopted as sons and daughters of God. What Jesus shares with the Father by nature, we get to share by grace as a gift. We have the privilege of calling out “Abba!” (Baba or Papa) to the creator of the universe. God is not some distant impersonal force out there; God the Father is our guide, our protection, and our cause of joy. We may experience fear, but we are not alone. Our Father is holding us close to Himself.  As a father embraces his child during a thunderstorm, giving them faith that they are safe, so too our Heavenly Father embraces us with His protection.

 

So when the temptation comes to worry about what will happen next, remember that we did not receive a spirit of fear. Our fear cannot fix this broken world. But a spirit of peace might be just what people need.

 

2. Suffering will come, but so will glory

 

“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

 

Church history shows us that following Christ does not guarantee an easy or physically blessed life. What the Church reminds us though, over and over through the life of the saints, is that suffering in this life does not compare with the glory that will come through unity with Jesus Christ.

 

We may not be able to control the circumstances that come our way or the evils in the world, but if we are united to Jesus Christ, we will have already found the source of joy to endure whatever it is we face. The world will not be able to knock us off of our feet if we are already firmly grounded in Him. With Christ as our anchor, we will be able to endure the pain we feel watching the news, the frustration of an election year, the suffering that we personally encounter.

 

3. We have an active hope

 

“The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Romans 8:22

 

“We eagerly wait for it [the redemption of our body] with perseverance.” Romans 8:23, 25

 

Not only do we await the redemption and resurrection of our bodies (as we confess in the Creed), but all of creation is awaiting this future glorification and renewal with Christ. So what does that mean for our world today? It reminds us that we await something better, that even though the quality of life, technology and medicine have improved over the centuries, sin and death still rule. While we get a foretaste of the kingdom in this life, we still look to a moment when all of this world (with its imperfect people and imperfect politics) will be redeemed.

 

So how can we have this active, persevering sort of hope? Well, have you ever seen a dog wait patiently for a treat? He never takes his eyes off his master and obeys him with eagerness to gain the prize. I should be as eager for God’s grace in my life as a dog is for his treat.

 

4. We are weak, God is strong

 

“The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26

 

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or family, or nakedness or peril or sword?...Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 38-39

 

When I am stuck in worry about the state of the world, when I find myself impassioned over the fate of our country or of Christians in the Middle East, I am acting as if I have the power to solve these problems on my own. I can only despair because I become aware of my own weakness. Instead of turning to God in prayer, I turn to worry. But Saint Paul reminds us that even when we do not know the words to say, the Holy Spirit will help us direct our hearts and minds to Him. God’s power is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) precisely because we can’t get anything done if we rely on our own perceived strength; we can only experience God’s strength if we acknowledge our own limitations.

 

What can separate us from the love of Christ? Absolutely nothing. Except maybe our pride. But when we are weak, God is strong.

 

*****

 

It is good to be upset about and not numb to the injustice, the death, and the pain our world experiences. It is good that we see the imperfections of a world that isn’t rooted in the hope of the Gospel. But instead of turning inwards through despair or turning outwards in anger or resentment, we must turn up to God in prayer first. In prayer, God might even reveal what we can do to be a tool of His grace in this world so much in need of Christ’s presence.

 

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: depositphotos

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