“… a tempest of doubting thoughts…”

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“Having within a tempest of doubting thoughts, and wanting to give my children to drink of eternal life, I weep. Thus, having remembered Thy most rich mercies, I sing to Thy Son with hope and with a contrite heart: Alleluia.” (From the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children; Kontakion 4)

The Akathist To the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, is probably my favorite form of prayer when I think of my sons, and now, my grandchildren, too (My daughters-in-law are prayed for as well, because I think of them as my children, too).  As parents, we are called to lead our children to a life of Christian prayer, service, and sacrifice. To put “other” before “self” and to enjoy the companionship of other believers, being a part of a community. To enjoy serving. To enjoy and celebrate a simple life; one that encompasses prayer to God and being a part of a church community. To enjoy praying with and celebrating within a community. And to push ourselves outside of that community “comfort zone” into serving our communities at large. The thought of having faith and being a part of organized religion often frightens people away. “I know what I believe; I don’t need some organized religion telling me what to believe and how to behave.”  That is such an American, democratic view of faith, also laid upon views about life in general. And I know it has caused umpteen disruptions of relationships, of churches, and of our Christian faith in particular. It is one of the reasons I am awakened in the night, being asked by God for renewed faith and renewed prayer.

An Akathist, for those of my friends who’ve never heard the term, is just another way of saying a Novena, or set of prayers (although it is not done like a Novena – over 9 days – but is more like a formal prayer used regularly).  This particular Akathist is concerned with raising our children, from a mother’s point of view. (I also love the Akathist to Our Guardian Angels). Within this Akathist, Kontakion 8 says, “Where will my children, wandering in the greatly perilous and stormy valley of the world, receive joy and consolation if not in Thee, O Most Pure One? Travel with them and teach them the true path, that they may cry to God: Alleluia.” This sentiment is on the mind of all parents, when their children venture more and more away from their homes and establish their own homes. (Ikon 9) “Deliver my children from association with falsely-theorizing orators, who speak lies about Thine all-powerful intercession, and look upon me, faithfully singing…” These prayers keep coming to my mind in all hours of the night. And I pray for my children, and my grandchildren. This world can be a fast, ugly, sinful place. We can easily lose sight of what really matters. (Ikos 10) “Surround my children with indestructible walls, O Heavenly Queen, that under Thy blessed protection, they may accomplish a multitude of good deeds, and that with them, I may cry to Thee…”

Sons shoes

I am at the point of seeing my nest empty. It makes me sigh with relief in so many ways, but it also makes me sad. I’m definitely tired. Raising three sons so far apart is like having 3 singletons, as they say. And as I near 60, I am looking forward to married life without kids underfoot, as we have never had that. But I love teens (as weird as that may sound) and I am going to miss our last son being here, most especially because he is the last (and also a great joy in my life). And I have reflected on what we have done, as parents, to set our sons on the path to God. In this great book by Peter Kreeft (Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven but Were Afraid to Ask – available on Amazon), he talks about standing at the Throne of God. When God asks us what we have done with the souls He entrusted to us, I hope to be able to answer, “Lord, I set them on the path to You.” Because, truly, as a parent, that is all I can do. I cannot shove faith down the throat of my sons. They have to discover what it is they believe, as men, and how they choose to go about their lives. Will they share God with their kids? Perhaps not. And that is something I have to live with, which is also why I diligently pray for not just my children, but my grandchildren, too. I don’t think we are ever done being a parent. I just had a chat with my dad, reminding him that his dad (my grandpa) told him at 50 years of age, “Well, son, I guess you’re old enough for me to not have to worry about you anymore.” But I don’t think Grandpa ever did stop worrying. I don’t think I ever will, either. My dad, at almost 90, still worries about us!

Near the end of the Akathist is a prayer, “A Prayerful Sighing of Parents for Their Children” and I try to pray this each week for my children and grandchildren.

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“LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, hearken unto me, Thine unworthy servant (name), O Lord, govern in mercy my children, Thy servants (names). Have mercy on them and save them, for Thy name’s sake.O Lord, forgive them all their transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, that they may be perfected before Thee. O Lord, set them on the true path of Thy commandments and enlighten their minds with the Light of Christ unto salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies.
Bless them, O Lord, at home, at school, in their journeys and in every place of Thy dominion. Preserve and shelter them, O Lord, from flying bullets, arrows, the sword, poison and fire, from mortal wounds and sudden death. Guard them, O Lord, from all visible and invisible enemies, and from all danger, evil and misfortune.
Heal them O Lord, from all sickness, deliver them from every impurity, and lighten their spiritual sufferings. Grant them, O Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit and a long life; grant them health and chastity in all piety and love, and to live in accord with all their neighbors, near and far.
Multiply and strengthen them, O Lord, in mental ability and bodily strength, given to them by Thee. Bless them to lead a pious life and, if it is pleasing to Thee, grant them married life and honorable childbearing.
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, give me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, a parental blessing for my children and Thy servants, both in this present time, morning, noon and night, and also in Thine eternal, almighty and all-powerful Kingdom.
Amen.

O God, Maker of all creation, Thou hast made me worthy to be the mother of a family, and through Thy goodness hast bestowed children upon me; and so I dare to say: these children are Thine, for Thou hast given them being, hast infused them with an immortal soul, and hast raised them to life through baptism.
And in accordance with Thy will Thou has adopted them and received them into the bosom of Thy Church. Send down to me Thy gracious help in raising my children, for the glory of Thy name. Bestow on me patience and strength to do Thy will.
Teach me to plant in their hearts the root of true wisdom-the fear of the Lord-that all their lives they may tremble at Thy words. Open to them the understanding of Thy law. Until the end of their days let them act with the sense that Thou art everywhere present.
Plant in their hearts loathing for every transgression, that they may be pure in their signs. O Righteous Judge, who punishes children for the sins, but sprinkle them with the dew of Thy grace.
O Heavenly Father, order the fate of my children according to Thy blessings, do not deprive them in this life of their daily bread, send down to them in due time all that is necessary for the acquisition of blessings in eternity.
Be merciful to them, when they sin before Thee; look not upon the sins of their youth and ignorance; chastise them and have mercy on them, but turn not Thy face away from them. Turn not Thy face from the in the day of their tribulation, that they may not fall into temptations beyond their strength.
Cover them with Thy mercy, that Thine Angel may walk with them and preserve them. Abandon not my children, O Lord, and give them that which is profitable for salvation.
Amen.”

I shared this in its entirety because it is weighing heavily on my heart. I feel some mighty changes coming and I am praying I am prepared for them. I strengthen my heart and soul through praying, but sometimes we have a lesson we need to learn. I am ready. I know God has my best interests at heart, and I trust completely in Him. I also place my children within the mantle of the Blessed Theotokos, Mother of God, and continually ask her intercession on behalf of my children and grandchildren. I know this world is changing rapidly. People are becoming less and less concerned with their spiritual well-being and more concerned with the house they live in, the purse they carry, and what kind of car they drive. It makes me so sad, and frightened. My grandmother once told me that she was sorry for the world she left to me. She was born in 1903. She said that because of living through the depression, and a couple of horrible world wars, parents made the mistake of not wanting their children to suffer as they had, so they made life too easy for them. She told me that she had sheltered my dad in some ways, by always being on his side and praising him too much. She often thought he had an inordinate view of himself. And I believe that trend has continued. Kids nowadays get a trophy just for signing up to play a sport – not for actually trying or winning. Everyone is special and a hero. It is a disordered view of life and has created a generation of entitled young adults and teens. And it is getting worse every day.

A friend and I had a chat about recently about prepping.  You know, bunkers, laying up stores, ammo, water, a shelter. We reminisced about drills in school when we were young over the Cold War and Russia “dropping the bomb on us.” Now it seems more likely to come from a  much closer source and it is rather frightening. But how do we live our lives, knowing some of this? Her husband wants to go very prepper with  shelter, ammo, etc. whereas she prefers the approach of the movie, “The War Room.” I believe in an intelligent, happy medium. But I am not stupid, either. I know God has things in store for me, whether I am prepared or not. God is not done with His world, yet. To that end, I think it behooves us all to be smart. Learn something about living “off the grid” (Hey, earthquakes are real – they are something facing lots of us regularly; tornadoes are real; terrorism is real; our economy tanking is a very real possibility) and we all need to know how to take care of ourselves. One of the scariest things happened to me years ago when we took school kids on a tour of a dairy farm, “Where does the ice cream come out?” “Euwww…cows poop?” “That’s not milk; those cows are peeing out of their bellies.” “Yes, I know where milk comes from; it comes from the grocery store.” Although it might seem funny, are we prepared, as city dwellers, to take care of ourselves independent of the local market? Do we know where to get drinkable water in an emergency? Do we keep supplies in our garage? Car? Basements? Can we kill food for our families? Do we keep the Bible and family prayer ropes and icons where we can get to them in an emergency? Are we constantly storming heaven with our prayers?

(Ikos 9) “Raise my children to reject the deceitful teachings of the teachers of unbelief; raise my children to not accept the spirit of the sons of the adversary; raise my children to run from the world and the delusions of the world; raise my children to turn away from evil and to do good; raise my children to love their enemies and to pray for them; raise my children to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.” And the following Kontakion 10, “Desiring to save the world, Thy Son came from heaven to call, not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. For the sake of this, pray to Thy Son that having been saved through Thee, my children may call to God: Alleluia.”

And so I pray. I pray unceasingly (Ikos 5 – Having seen my diligent supplication rising like incense to Thy glory, turn not Thy face away from my children, though they turn away from Thee, but all the more, hear the cry of my lips, singing to Thee…”). No prayers are ever wasted; no time spent seeking the counsel of God is ever wasted. And I know of no other use of my time to be as wisely spent.  In all honesty, seek God in all things, but especially as an intercessor for those you love. Our Lord made us parents because He trusted us to care for these souls. We need to redouble our efforts, even when our children are grown, have spouses, and children of their own.

To God be the glory. He is Born. Glorify Him.

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“..to fight the fear of the unknown…”

Man before cloudsSometimes we face a deep unknown.  And time stands still in so many ways, until we take that first, tentative step into it.  I was thinking about this as I prepared to delve into my world of medical bills.  It’s so fun (*sarcasm alert*), trying to reconcile who is billing you for what, and what your insurance has paid, and if you are paying too much.  The pile was large and our budget is small, and so I was intimated.  Once everything was done, it was not as bad as I had originally thought.  And my husband said to me, “Sometimes we need to just do it and we will find out it’s not so bad.”  There is a lot of wisdom in that. (Another reason I am blessed to be married to that man!).

“We associate fear with danger because that is how our body interacts with our God given motivation for self preservation. When we go into a dark room, we might sense fear, especially if we are apprehensive about the dark, but that does not mean that there actually is a danger. It only means that there is an unknown, and that unknown can breed fear – fear of the unknown. To fight the fear of the unknown, counteract it with faith based on the known – the known will of God.” (Scriptures Against Fear at HopeFaithPrayer.com)

“The fear of man brings a snare: but who puts his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” Proverbs 25:29

There are many things in life we fear, and often our fear ‘gets the best of us’ because we have no place to hang on to, no firm foundation beneath us.  For me, I often fear my security of having a certain bank balance scare me from taking care of things in a more timely matter. Quite often, I will also put up with aches and pains because I fear doctor’s bills, and some horrid diagnosis.  Usually, once that is faced, it melts into nothing and I realize I created my own fear, my own unease, my own insecurity.  When I wake at night in a sweat, freaking out over some unknown thing, I try to pray and drink some warm milk.

Carry HellOur Thoughts Determine Our Lives is a book I quote from often and to be honest, it is truly one of those books that fundamentally changed how I think and how I look at things.  But I am also very human, and I forget the adages; I fail to remember the comfort found in Elder Thaddeus’ words; I forget to read Scripture to ease my mind. And so I create my own sort of hell…one solely made in my head, but which affects everything and everyone around me.  I project my fears, or my hell, into all that I do. I can motivate others to a higher good, or I can welcome them to wallow in my grit and grime.  But that is not God’s call to me, and that is what I need to listen to.  Not my fears or worries or concerns, but God’s call to me.

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

I am working at starting some new things.  And it feels like that stack of medical bills…in that it is a large undertaking and my “budget” (in this case my self-confidence) is a little lacking.  And for those who read this post and know me well, they will find that humorous. I’ve never been known to shirk or avoid diving into anything.  First one off a cliff or first one to share in a group…that’s me!  But as I get older, I find myself being discouraged more often. “Is this worth the effort?”  “Do I really want new (and more) drama in my life?”  “Is this the right thing to do?”  “Will my actions even help?”  Those are all skittering through my head.  And I know that I can help and can make a difference, but I am also at the point of being a part of that same 10% who is always “doing things” in any organized group – and it does get sort of old.  Ha-Ha!  Always being in that small group of people who dig in and get it done, and not one of those who is unknown by the group at large and contributes little, gets tiring – honestly. There are some other, amazing people, with so many gifts to offer, who do nothing. And that is perhaps out of a place of fear, or lack of self-confidence. I sure wish I could somehow motivate them to become leaders, too.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 

I know I have a firm foundation in my faith. I have gone through so much to become a comfortable Melkite Greek Catholic. I don’t feel any burning to explore further; I have found my spiritual home.  Although my journey of faith has been convoluted and rocky, often off the path to God completely,  I am at a place in my life where I am comfortable with what I believe, with what I know, and I feel like my foundation in this, my faith, grounds me.  As it said in Timothy above, God has given us power and a sound mind, and in Romans we are told that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” I need to rest in those promises more often, not fearing to launch into new things, based on faith.

Armor of GodAnd so I am determined to gird my loins (Ephesians) and prepare to wade into some rough waters, wearing the full Armor of God, and I know that God is with me, “for your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23). I will pray and ask God for comfort, strength, and soundness of heart, soul, and mind.  It is His call I will heed, laying aside my own fears, and resting in His promises and His grace.  I am blessed.

Isaiah 41-10