Entries with tag struggle .

Yes, I Read *The Benedict Option*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________

And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

Running from Life

I’ve never liked running. In fact, I dreaded those fated days in gym class when we’d have to run the mile. I just knew I’d be too slow and afterwards would feel too sick. The same goes for sports. I was too self-conscious to enjoy playing them. I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable; I didn’t want to be judged. So I would take the easier route during class and walk the track instead. It was my way of escaping the seemingly inevitable pain of gym class.

 

There’s a lot about life that is painful or uncomfortable. But there’s also a lot that’s beautiful and joyful. I’d just rather skip the pain and move along to the joy. I’d rather not feel the discomfort of disappointment or the pangs of fear or the stress of work that needs to be done. And when I’m not feeling super-connected spiritually, I might even avoid prayer. But the reality is, the more I train myself to run away from the negative in life, the more I run away from Life Himself. When I run, I miss an opportunity to encounter the Lord, and instead believe the lie that I’m alone.

 

So how do we stop this pattern of emotional escapism? How do we stop running from Life?

 

1. See struggle as a potential good

 

There is a certain inevitability about hard times. We are all going to experience the death of a loved one, the stress of a job, the loss of a friendship. Though we might intellectually understand this, we oftentimes aren’t prepared when they come. We’re blindsided and don’t know how to handle it. Being around difficult people can be a challenge, and it’s easier to escape into social media than face reality.

 

Saint John of Kronstadt (+1909) speaks to the instinct to escape struggle:

Do not fear the conflict, do not flee it. Where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where faith and love are not tempted, it is not possible to be sure whether they are really present. They are proved and revealed in adversity, that is, in difficult and grievous circumstances, both outward and inward - during sickness, sorrow, or privations. (My Life in Christ, p. 375)

Adversity reveals to us the current state of our hearts. How we react to loss and pain shines light on our own ability or inability to trust God and our personal acceptance that we aren’t in control of everything. And we don’t like being out of control. But we have a God mighty in power and able to turn our sorrow into joy.

 

2. Let church be a training ground, not an escape

 

There are a lot of people who see faith as an escape. Either they’re opposed to religion and see it as escapism from the reality of life, or they’re Christians who look for respite from the world. Recently, I read a quote by an atheist that said, “An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death.” There’s this idea that people go to church so that they can ignore their problems and try to pray them away.

 

Saint Maria Skobtsova of Paris (+1945) once wrote:

It would be a great lie to tell searching souls: ‘Go to church, because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. The Church tells those who are at peace and asleep: ‘Go to church, because there you will feel real anguish for your sins, for your perdition, for the world’s sins and perdition. There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There, instead of becoming lukewarm, you will be set on fire; instead of pacified, you will become alarmed; instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become fools for Christ.’ (“Under the Sign of Our Time” p. 113)

This great saint of our times saw the danger that comes from using church as a means of escaping the reality of life. St. Maria did not see worship as a respite from the world, but as an opportunity to encounter the Truth and the truth about ourselves. Worship should lead us to more passionately serve Christ and our neighbor in the world.

 

We find peace in Christ, but not because He takes our problems away. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We find peace in Christ even in the midst of tribulation because in Him we no longer have to face the world alone.

 

3. Remember you are not alone

 

God created us for relationships – with Him and with each other. When we start feeling overwhelmed, when we start to turn to fear and anxiety, we tend to isolate ourselves. We forget that we’re not alone. Sometimes we as Christians can act as if we’re spiritual orphans. We can’t see Christ, so we aren’t sure if He’s actually with us.

 

We run away from something when we are afraid to face it alone. We run from discomfort and problems because we think they’re up to us to solve. "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). When we truly know that God is our strength and that the Church is here to support us, we’ll understand that we’re never alone.

 

But it’s still up to us to actually connect to God through prayer and the sacraments and to reach out to the Church by being a part of community.

 

*****

 

When we run from life, when we run from Christ, we miss out on truly living. Life with all its struggles and difficulties is the only reality we have so avoidance isn’t an option. There is no “walk the track” easy way out: we all have to run this race. Instead, we can turn to the Source of our Life, to Christ, as our support and our peace. With Him, we can see how challenges that we face (perhaps we’ll only see this later) can be used for good. And we’ll see the Church not as a place to escape the world, but as a community that trains us to live in the world. Living as a part of this community, connected to one another and to God, we’ll be able to face life’s trials instead of running from them.

 

What in your life are you afraid of facing? How can the Church be a place you work through your fear?

 

 

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

______________

— 5 Items per Page
Showing 2 results.
Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 75
Stars: 8
Date: 9/20/17
Rev. Dr. Tony Vrame
Posts: 23
Stars: 1
Date: 9/20/17
Sam Williams
Posts: 64
Stars: 0
Date: 9/19/17
Nicholas Anton
Posts: 5
Stars: 0
Date: 9/1/17
Steven Christoforou
Posts: 26
Stars: 0
Date: 8/30/17
Andrew Calivas
Posts: 3
Stars: 0
Date: 8/22/17
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
Posts: 24
Stars: 10
Date: 7/24/17
Anthony Constantine Balouris
Posts: 9
Stars: 0
Date: 6/28/17
Maria Pappas
Posts: 25
Stars: 0
Date: 5/12/17
Andrew Romanov
Posts: 8
Stars: 0
Date: 4/27/17