Confession: myrrh-streaming icons freak me out.
I know they shouldn’t, and I don’t want them to, but they do.
Yet I have many friends who see myrrh-streaming icons as evidence of God’s presence and power in the world. This encourages them, and I’m glad it does.
But for me, it’s actually a little discouraging.
When I hear the stories surrounding miraculous, extraordinary events in the lives of Christians, I can’t help but feel a little bit left out, as if there were no possible way that my own faith could generate such remarkable divine activity.
And then my thoughts spiral out of control…
I beat myself up for not being “holy enough” or for not “praying enough” to make God happy with me. I become convinced that because my icons don’t stream myrrh, I have failed to find favor with God. That’s when the despair kicks in:
My God, why have you forsaken me?
When I do this, however, I have fallen into one of the classic blunders of Christian living. I have begun to equate the extraordinary with evidence of God’s presence and power.
This impulse is pretty normal because we love the extraordinary. We love stories that involve crazy things happening. Of all the stories my dad (who is an emergency room doctor) can tell, I don’t want the one about a toddler sticking a crayon up his nose.
I want the story about the guy who thought he was a hamster.
I want the extraordinary.
And I’m not alone. Even in the Church, we often focus on all the awesome things that God has done through the saints. These stories can actually distress rather than inspire me, as they remind me of my own unworthiness.
Of course I’m not holy, I’ve never healed the sick or given sight to the blind.
This Sunday of All Saints, we will hear about some of the extraordinary things the saints have done, how they “shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fires, and escaped the edge of the sword” (Heb. 11:33-35).
If you’re anything like me, you read this and think: AWESOME. It’s hard not to be impressed by someone who shut the mouths of lions.
And then: DANG, I’ll never do that.
While our attention gravitates to these amazing deeds, Fr. John Behr suggests that, “far more emphasis…is given … to their sufferings: being tortured, mocked, scourged…of these, it is said, the world is not worthy. Suffering, after all, is the basic reality of our lives.”
What makes the saints extraordinary is their response to the ordinary.
As we all know, suffering sucks. But it’s ordinary, it’s common and dreary. It’s way more fun to focus on the extraordinary because the ordinary kind of bums us out.
Yet the path to the extraordinary is through the ordinary, as we embrace the lives we have been given.
The path to the Resurrection runs straight through the Cross.
We forget that saints don’t necessarily heal the sick or raise the dead. Some, like Saint Juliana of Lazarevo, don’t have any miracles or wonders attributed to them in their lives. Because that’s not the point.
We honor the saints because they love God and neighbor, because they forgive those who hurt them, because they endured the banality of suffering with patience and joy. They do not seek to save themselves, but instead, run “with perseverance the race set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:1,2).
Do we endure our own cross for the sake of the joy ahead? Do we, like the saints, actually trust God’s promises and live now in the light of what is to come?
This Sunday, we, too, are called to join this “cloud of witnesses” and run the same race, “laying aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely” as we seek to follow Christ (Heb. 12:1).
And we all are weighed down by disordered love.
In the Gospel, Christ speaks some words that are hard to digest: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37,38).
Holiness is about union with Christ. It is about love for God and neighbor and the context in which we work out that love: our everyday relationships.
Do we, like the saints, forgive and love our friends (and even our enemies)? Or do we feel the need to vindicate ourselves when we feel slighted?
Do we trust that in the Cross of Christ all malice and hatred is overcome with forgiveness and love? Or do we just really like being right at all costs?
Do we sit with our brothers and sisters, humbly bearing their pain with them? Or do we seek to sit upon the throne of our ego and greatness?
While the extraordinary things that occur in the lives of the saints are awesome, it is in the mundane moments that we see where our hearts truly lie.
As St. Paul reminds us, our awesome moments are nothing if our hearts are empty: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
We become saints by taking up the cross in our everyday lives. We become saints not because we shut lions’ mouths, not because our icons stream myrrh, but because we have learned how to lay down our ego, sacrifice our desires, and long for the things of God.
We become saints in our ordinary lives, in uniting ourselves to Christ in ways most others will never see.
In becoming saints, we experience something extraordinary indeed.
 John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014), p. 102, emphasis mine.
Annunciation: jimforest via Compfight cc
Lions: Living in HDR via Compfight cc
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 MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on everyday marytrdom, check out this episode of Be the Bee: