Entries with tag repentance .

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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Stop Saying it's Okay: A Lesson in Forgiveness

I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness this holiday season.

 

It’s not because I’ve necessarily gone through instances of having to forgive large grievances committed against me, but because I’ve found myself thinking about the difference between forgiving someone and telling them that their actions are okay.

 

I think we need to stop saying “it’s okay” when it’s not. For example, a while back I had fought with one of my friends, and when she apologized, I kept repeating, “It’s okay.” I immediately regretted my choice of words, because she and I both knew that her actions weren’t okay.

 

Yet they were forgiven. She was forgiven.

 

Forgiving her, and forgiving anyone who I find myself in a disagreement with, takes some time and effort. It’s by no means easy, and I’ve come to accept that. It keeps me conscious of the fact that forgiveness is a process, and it’s something that I need to focus on and work on a lot. Forgiving someone doesn’t just happen.


Telling someone “it’s okay” when something that they did truly hurt you or was detrimental to them is one of the greatest disservices that you can do them and yourself.

 

Because it is forgiveness, not “okayness,” that changes people.

 

Last week, on the feast day of St. Dionysios, I went to Divine Liturgy for St. Dionysios, and it was during the sermon that the profound power of forgiveness hit me as I heard about another one of the miracles of this amazing saint.

 

Among his many, many miracles, one of the most famous and truly awe-inspiring stories about St. Dionysios is the one in which he has the ability to forgive the man who murdered his brother. It’s the reason why this saint is the paragon of forgiveness for many people.

 

The man who had committed the murder committed a sinful action, and it hurt many people, probably most of all himself; these are undeniable facts. And telling someone that something like that is okay is not what’s going to help them, or you, come to terms with any of it.

 

As St. Dionysios showed us, forgiveness does not have to come with the reassurance of saying “it’s okay.” Forgiveness is enough in itself.

 

And Christ forgives others for that as readily as he forgives us; far more readily than we can forgive others, and surely more readily than we tend to forgive ourselves.

 

A sin that you committed, or one that was committed against you, will not sit well with you. It might pain you to look back on it for a long time. It might sit festering, or you may receive an apology, but you never owe an “it’s okay,” to anyone: to yourself, or to the person who wronged you.

 

Instead of “it’s okay,” try “I forgive you.” Just as Christ has done for you.

 

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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.

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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The Importance of Having Heroes Who Make Mistakes

Since I’m the oldest child and cousin in my family, I’ve often looked outside of my family for role models and mentors. I found a lot of older female role models in high school via Greek club and GOYA, and later at Camp Saint Paul during my first year on staff.

 

I found myself looking up to these girls, without really getting to know them, because I was extremely shy when I was younger, and saw them as the outgoing and charismatic people that I wanted to be. Before I even knew about their commitments to their faith, I saw their commitments to their goals, to their families and friends. I think it was just what I needed to see to inspire me.

 

Then, I actually became friends with these girls.

 

Soon afterwards, I found that these girls made mistakes. They weren’t perfect. They gossiped, they skipped church, they didn’t always make great decisions.

 

The reason that I found these things out was simple: when you get to know people on a deeper level than simply looking up to them from afar, you’re going to see them more fully than before. Read: the good, the bad, and the ugly. To be completely honest, I was pretty thrown off when I first realized this. I felt like I had misread my role models.

 

That is, until I realized, I do all of those things too. They were actually much more similar to me than I had ever thought.

 

As Christians, we all struggle to do what is best. We are all imperfect, and we are all in need of God’s mercy. Admitting your shortcomings, not hiding them, but instead seeking God’s mercy for them is a beautiful thing that we could all stand to do a bit more. So at the end of the day, I’m glad that I was able to see both sides of my mentors.

 

By being imperfect, my role models showed me something that’s more important than always being on your A-game: being honest, repentant Christians who work through challenges and don’t give up their faith.

 

And because of them, I’ve learned to not only accept, but to love people who admit their imperfections, both seen and unseen.

 

As I have gotten older, I have become a role model to others as well, unworthy as I am. I am always wary when someone tells me that they look up to me, thinking, “Aren’t there better people to look up to than me?” I am reluctant to be seen making mistakes because I’d rather people who look up to me don’t follow in my footsteps.

 

But it’s a teaching opportunity. I can’t help being imperfect, and neither could the girls I look up to because (surprise surprise!) they are humans. They didn’t choose to be my role models and mentors, yet I wanted them to be. And realizing that they were imperfect was just one of the countless blessings that I received by meeting them.


Now, I can look up to them in a different way. Look to them for guidance not only as to the woman that I want to be, but for guidance as to how to get back up when life knocks you down, how to admit your flaws and work on them, learn to live with them or grow from them. And to remain a beacon of light through all of that.

 

I’ve also realized that mentor relationships work both ways. I’ve had people I really look up to come to me earnestly seeking advice. It’s a really nice and welcome reminder of how I have grown with their guidance.

 

The best role models I’ve had are the ones who admit their shortcomings. It helps them love me and guide me through my own shortcomings and mistakes, urging me not to make the same ones and showing me how to set things right through their loving examples. It is only through understanding that my mentors are not perfect that I am able to truly respect and love them.

 

Image credits:

Depositphotos

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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Ripe for Revival

Have you ever been in church and looked around to see blank faces of people not participating in the Liturgy, and more boredom than interest in worship? Do you ever wish worship were more exciting or interesting? Now what if I told you that it all depends on you?

In our modern world, we have a tendency towards commercializing life. We shop for what we like, we move on from relationships and churches if they don’t fit our fancy. And then when it comes to worship, we all too easily get bored and find some community that’s more interesting or lively. In contrast to this, the Orthodox Church chooses a more sober approach to worship; instead of being focused on preferences, our worship is based on revelation of heavenly worship.

But apart from the ideal that we aim to, what does worship actually look like in our communities today? What do our lives look like when we walk out of the Liturgy? Are we each worshiping our Lord in spirit and truth, and does that affect how we live our lives afterwards?

This week, I’d like us to reflect a bit on our need for a personal revival. A revival which will in turn enliven our communities, our Church, and society at large.

1. Repent

The first message we hear from St John the Baptist is, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2) This was the same message that Christ began teaching as soon as He began His ministry (Matthew 4:17). The message of repentance, of making a clear break with our old self and of dedicating and committing our lives to Christ, is necessary to live the Christian life.

We cannot expect to find healthy, vibrant, Orthodox communities if we are not communities living out repentance. But each one of us must be living this life, honestly and openly. If we are not going to confession, we have to ask ourselves, “Why not?” If we are not making strides in letting go of our past resentments and struggles, we have to ask, “Why not?” But the Good News is that the Kingdom is at hand! Today is the day of salvation, and today is the day we can make a change and turn to the Lord.

We need a change of heart. When we are in the Liturgy, if we honor the Lord with our lips but our hearts are far from the Lord, we are no different than the Pharisees that Christ calls hypocrites (Matthew 15:8). A change of mind is what we need, true repentance, to bring our hearts close to Christ.

God desires us to live for Him, so our first step in reviving our community life is to live a life of repentance.

2. Get on Fire for Christ

Are you on fire for Jesus Christ? Does your heart burn with joy when you remember how much He has done for you? This is a natural result of repentance. When we admit our own brokenness, and then let ourselves receive the grace that God gives us…how can we not have joy? How can we not get excited when we know that Jesus Christ is risen? This is the fire that the Apostles had; this is the fire that changed the world!

How do we get on fire for Christ? As we live lives of repentance, we will naturally turn more to God in prayer and reading scripture. As we turn to Christ in prayer, we will give our will over to Him, and trust that He will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. When we trust that God is able to guide us, then our lives become less anxiety-ridden as we let God do the “heavy lifting”. And this release of anxiety, this release of the feeling that we have to handle everything on our own, leads to a joy, a fire for Christ. The fire for Christ is a gift of prayer and trust in God.

Last week, we celebrated the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, and the feast of the Synaxis of the Apostles. During the Orthros service on the Synaxis of the Apostles, we read that God showed the apostles “to be second lights of Your eternal brilliance” (Fr. Seraphim Dedes). After receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they were so filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, that they were like lights that took His light to all around them.

When we’re committed to Christ, we won’t choose to be lukewarm any longer. We’ll desire nothing less than to burn with Christ’s love. Like a hot cup of coffee, if we’re filled with Christ, our warmth will overflow and warm those around us. But if we are room temperature, no one will be attracted to Christ because they will see nothing to draw towards.

Being on fire for Christ isn’t about making a choice to be happy or emotional. It doesn’t mean we will no longer have hard days. But it does mean that, at least for today, we will chose to rely on our Lord just like His disciples learned to do after Pentecost.

If we’re aware of God’s grace in our lives, this will bring an even greater fervor to our prayer, a desire to participate in the Liturgy, and a desire to share the hope that we have in Christ.

3. Be Fishers of Men

The last message that Jesus gave His disciples before His Ascension was that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and that they would be His witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Today, the message of Christ has reached nearly every corner of the planet, and through the work of OCMC, Orthodox Christian missionaries continue to do the work of the apostles.

But what about you? Jesus told His disciples, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Each of us has been given such a priceless gift to be a member of the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church. We did nothing to warrant this gift, so what have we done to give back out of the grace that we have received? The disciples went from Jerusalem to the neighboring areas of Judea and Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. What is our Jerusalem? What is our local community, and how can we give back from God’s blessings? How can we share our Orthodox faith with those who do not know it?

At this we may balk. We may be uncomfortable with sharing our faith with others. Then perhaps we need to look back at point 1 and point 2 above. If we are living lives of repentance, if we are relying on God and are filled with the joy that He alone can provide, then how can we not share our faith? How can we not want to invite people to be a part of this great treasure we have?

So often, we assume that priests or theologically trained persons are the only ones who should be bringing others to Christ. But every one of us, baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians, are called by God to be fishers of men.

We aren’t called just to be fish; we’re called to bring others to Christ as well.

*****

At times, we may feel the parish we are a part of looks more like a community center than a community. But we are called to so much more: to be the Church and to bear one another’s burdens. So perhaps our community is ripe for a revival. But first, each one of us needs to personally dedicate ourselves to the Lord – starting with a life of repentance – and to let ourselves be on fire for Christ. Our flame will be contagious in our communities, and our churches will swell with the people who come to hear the Good News that is preached there. But this revival begins with us, personally.

What are you doing to be on fire for Jesus Christ? How would you describe your prayer life: is it cold, lukewarm, or hot?

 

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:

Letting Go: depositphotos

Holding Greek Coffee: Alyssa Kyritsis

Fishermen on the Golden Horn: Sam Williams

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Addiction, Sin, & Bad Habits Part 3: Making Amends and the Christian Life

In Part 1 and Part 2, we introduced the first seven steps of the Twelve Steps of recovery. In this post, we will see how the final steps build upon this foundation and parallel to Orthodox Christian practice.

Steps 8 & 9: Making Amends

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Step Eight and Step Nine are about asking forgiveness and trying to right the wrongs of our past. In Step Eight, we write out each person we can remember hurting through thoughts, words, or actions, and then we decide how we can right that wrong. In Step Nine, we go to work by reaching out to each of these people named in Step Eight; we admit how we were wrong and we ask forgiveness. Prayer for the other person can suffice if a direct amends is not possible.

Pride keeps us from admitting our wrongs even to ourselves. In the courtrooms of our minds, we can put to trial those around us and then convince ourselves we are in the right. Steps Eight and Nine help us to see past this unhealthy way of thinking allowing us to discover a healthy humility and an ability to ask for forgiveness. This attitude of vulnerability and humility can assist Orthodox Christians in actively being the Church not just in the abstract, but in creating a more healthy community in Christ.

Steps 10 & 11: Maintenance

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”    “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Step Ten and Step Eleven are about living out previous steps in our daily lives. Step Ten is a reworking of Steps Four through Nine. In a moment of frustration or anger we take a moment to ask ourselves, “How am I in the wrong here? Which of my character defects is playing a part?” Instead of falling back on the old habit of trying to ignore our wrongs, we ask forgiveness as soon as possible. In Step Eleven, we build upon the foundation of Step Two and Step Three by consciously improving our relationship with God through prayer.

The maintenance stage of Steps Ten and Eleven are like the daily living of a truly converted Orthodox Christian. Step Ten is about watchfulness, self-awareness, and continued humility in our daily lives. Each one of us (whether we were baptized Orthodox as infants or came to faith later in life) needs to develop our faith in God (Step Two) followed by a conversion or decision to follow Him (Step Three) in order to actually live out that relationship in our daily lives (Step Eleven). It follows the heavy lifting of Step Nine because we need to first reestablish our proper relationships with our neighbors (forgiving them and asking forgiveness) so that we can have a healthy relationship with God, too.

Step 12: Sharing Our Experience, Strength, & Hope

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics [addicts], and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Step Twelve is practiced by every addict who shares their story with another person. In Twelve Step programs, the emphasis is always on the solution (working the Steps) instead of the problem (the addiction). The problem is discussed only enough to show the low that the person has experienced, and how much God has worked in his or her life. Step Twelve also means working with other addicts one-on-one as a sponsor to assist them in the Steps. The wisdom of the Twelve Steps says that “you can’t give what you don’t have” but also that “if you don’t give it away, you lose it.” Each recovering addict is expected to participate in service to others as a vital aspect of their continued recovery.

After working the Steps, addicts see that recovery isn’t simply about stopping a compulsion or an action; rather, the purpose is to heal as a person and to grow closer to God and neighbor. The work of the Church is to bring us from brokenness to wholeness through unity with Christ and our neighbor. We are not Christians in order to “not do ___” or to be “be nice people”; we are Christians in order to be transformed. And as with Step Twelve, when we have found this source of transformation, Christ, how can we not want to share this gift with others?

*****

The principles found in the Twelve Steps are neither new nor complex. They are principles already found and practiced in the Orthodox Christian Church. What many addicts find, however, is that they had never learned to put these principles to work in their lives until they worked the Steps. Most addicts come to faith through working the Steps, because they finally accept their own powerlessness and trust in God’s strength. Worked in order, the Steps guide a person to mend their relationships with others and with God, and to have a new life guided by His will.

Do you shy away from making amends with others? What keeps you from promptly admitting your wrongs? How do you share with others what Christ has done for 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: depositphotos

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