Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, I can loose sight of those simple goals I was striving to work on during Lent – peace of mind and a closer relationship to Our Lord. Today I read about the banks in Cyprus closing until Thursday, and 6.75% of people’s savings accounts were “requested,” which is a nice way of saying “taken without their permission.” Gun laws are changing and for those of us who own them, it is causing concerns. North Korea is arming itself and aiming at the USA. The Defense Department announced they are setting up missile defense systems in reaction to North Korea, in Alaska, but that it will take until 2016 until they are ready (so comforting). This past week, a friend’s sewage system backed up and caused some major damage to a newly-finished basement. Their frustration and anguish was felt as much as if it happened to us! We’re still packing up and moving, but now are looking to other options as to when and where, because things we had planned have taken on their own twists and turns. This past Friday, we buried my stepdad. I spoke to my mom this morning and she was surly and very terse with me, which tells me she is struggling. This weekend, my husband suffered a debilitating migraine – his first. I so need to step back from the brink and have a cup of tea!!!
Our Orthodox brethren celebrated “Forgiveness Sunday” this week and are now on our Lenten journey with us. So many wonderful things were posted about forgiveness. And it is helping me to re-focus myself on keeping a clear head and keeping the peace of God reigning in my heart, and not the world. Here is one that caught my eye and gave me pause: “The soul must watch and anticipate carefully so that it is not even for the twinkling of an eye taken captive by the devil’s power. Even if only one part of an animal is caught in a trap, the whole animal is held fast and falls into the hands of the hunters; and the same thing is liable to happen to the soul at the hands of its enemies. The psalmist makes this quite clear when he says: ‘They prepared a trap for my feet and bowed down my soul’ (Ps. 57:6. LXX).” St Symeon Metaphrastis ; Paraphrase of the Homilies of St Makarios of Egypt.
I think this explains how we can strive for peace and keeping God uppermost in our thoughts, and when the world creeps in; those pesky details of life seep in; we loose our footing and realize that one foot was ensnared by the devil. And because I had been snagged just a little, I was completely derailed. What a tenuous grasp we have! This is where I disagree about the whole “salvation” outlook many of my Protestant friends and family members have. They have told me that they believe in “once saved, always saved.” And I think that we, who truly believe in God, we struggle (Christians of all types). We are tripped up constantly, and we are constantly snared by the evil in the world. Some Protestants refer to it as “backsliding,” still believing in the fact that salvation, complete, 100% salvation, took place once and for all. Whereas we Byzantine Catholics believe we fall, and we loose sight of God, and we become angry sinners, but we can choose to get back up again….we can choose to seek forgiveness once again.
I keep finding myself going over scenarios of things that perhaps took place, and because I wasn’t there, I am guessing. My husband gently reminded me that Elder Thaddeus teaches us that if we do that, we are not keeping our focus on God, but allowing ourselves to be derailed. And he was so very correct. (Inhale) “Lord Jesus Christ, (exhale) Son of God, (inhale) have mercy on me (exhale) a sinner.” That gave me the moments I needed to bring Peace (“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27) back into my heart and enabled me to tackle an issue with a more serene outlook, and to deal with the issue with a better mindset. Today, once again, I realized that I was not being the person I should be to others, because I was grasping at that same serenity I had yesterday, but I left a key component out of the equation – I was neglecting to ask God for help. I was trying to do this more as a breathing exercise, rather than an opportunity for prayerfully communing with God. (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Philippians 4:13).
I believe that I tend to want to rip the reins away, and take control. Humility is an attribute that allows me the perspective to realize how minute I am, and no matter the struggle I put up, I am so not in charge. I quite honestly cannot do much of anything without God taking the reins. A recently-recorded country-western song, made famous by Carrie Underwood, is entitled, “Jesus Take the Wheel” and this is the refrain:
“Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
To save me from this road I’m on
Jesus take the wheel”
I realized today that I am such a “side-seat-driver” in that I love to bark directions, even when I am not driving. (God bless my husband!!). And for those of us who are used to doing things our own way, “letting go and letting God” is something that does not come easy for us. I have had so many incredibly sublime moments when I knew God was present with me, in a particular place and time. I know without a doubt Our Lord was right there, right then, fully present. Those moments were so very incredible, I doubt I will ever forget them. They left me in an incredible state of Grace and warmth, knowing my God loves me, and they also left me wanting more of them. Which was partially the impetus for my struggles this Lenten period. For those of us still on the western calendars, we are in the home stretch here, folks! Lent is over in 12 days…less than 2 weeks! And I feel so very much like my toe is snagged and I am being dragged away from the progress made thus far, this year. I feel anger, frustration, disappointment, and a deep sense of loss, which brings with it a renewed sense of longing.
“Have you sinned? Go into Church and wipe out your sin. As often as you might fall down in the marketplace, you pick yourself up again. So too, as often as you sin, repent your sin. Do not despair. Even if you sin a second time, repent a second time. Do not by indifference lose hope entirely of the good things prepared. Even if you are in extreme old age and have sinned, go in, repent!” …. “For here there is a physician’s office, not a courtroom; not a place where punishment of sin is exacted, but where the forgiveness of sin is granted.” St John Chrysostom
So I pick myself up again, clinging to the promises Our Lord made to us, and renewing my desire to “get right with God.” I also know in my heart that, as the old saying goes, “Those who try to get closer to God, the devil knows about and tries even harder to get their souls.”As I get nearer and nearer to the Resurrection, I know that evil will enter and try to dissuade me. Because I know this and am aware of this, I think that consciously acknowledging it further empowers me to fight it off. Let us all keep one another in prayer as we journey through this messed up world with all its temptations to despair. I offer my prayers to the Lord, and also ask anyone I have offended to please forgive me, while praying for those I know I have let down. “…Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” — Ephesians 6:12-13
And as Elder Sophrony of Essex suggests, I think I will go have a cup of tea.