Everywhere Present

Everything you do, all your work, can contribute towards your salvation. It depends on you, on the way you do it. History is replete with monks who became great saints while working in the kitchen or washing sheets. The way of salvation consists in working without passion, in prayer….

May God give you the strength to keep your spirit, your mind, and your heart in the spirit of Christ. Then everything that happens to you can very quickly be radically transformed. What was tiresome and discouraging will disappear, transfigured by your desire to be there where Christ your God is….

Elder Sophrony

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The wise elder’s words are not only good for our salvation (which is always at hand) but remind us that we should not divide our lives into two worlds. Even monks have to wash dishes…

If we concede that some of our life is drudgery, mindless but needful, while other parts of our lives are interesting and of value to God, then we have ourselves created a two-storey universe of our inner world. This part of my life is of no value – while this part is of great value. This, of course, is nonsense. Even service in the Holy Altar frequently consists in washing dishes.

The words of the elder teach us that the problem of the two-storey universe is to be found primarily in our own heart – not in the culture around us nor in the tasks we find at hand. God is everywhere present and filling all things. He is even present and filling the various tasks of “drudgery” we undertake. No task is beneath us. The Mother of God changed the diapers of the God of heaven. Our love for those around us should be no less. We are moved when we read in John that ‘Jesus wept’ at the grave of Lazarus, His friend. The Theotokos had long before heard Him weep and wail as all children do. Nor should any mother (or father) give less value to the weeping of their own children. God has invested everything with His love, transforming the world into the stage of our salvation. Glory to God for all things.

52 comments:

  1. It is truly a challenge to see God in all things, but it is needful that we do so. What a challenge to find Him in the mundane things we must do. A few years ago I read a book “Practicing the Presence of God,” written by a Roman Catholic monastic Brother Lawrence. I found it very inspiring and challenging.

  2. I am smiling after reading this post! I love picturing Mary being mom to Jesus in all the ‘little’ things.

    I will take these words with me as I begin to perform the seemingly mundane tasks of caring for the needs of my family and the animals in my care. Thank you! May my mind be transformed.

  3. Thank you for the reminder. It is easy to lose sight and focus and fail to remember that God is everywhere and fills all things.

  4. “This part of my life is of no value -while this part of my life is of great value. This of course is nonsense.”

    Thank you Father Stephen for revealing my second story thinking in the everydayness of life – I am hopeful because as you constantly remind us, we really live in a one story universe – thanks be to God! Our value in what we do is never divided and measured by Him, only by the promoter of the two story universe.

  5. I complain too much, about my own situation which, by the way, is good, and about others. I spend too little time in gratitude. That is the key, gratitude to God for all things. St. John Chrysostom is my patron, and he said it only too well. You have taken his words for this blog title.

  6. Dear Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for this wonderful reminder to live and work mindfully.
    I wanted to ask you this at certain times before, so this is such a perfect context:

    I can accept that doing manual labor at a monastery or at home (cooking, cleaning, washing, taking care of babies and children, and animals and crops in the garden, and doing housework for our husbands or wives, of fellow monastics) can be made very spiritual. Where I struggle is my professional work. Most of the time it is done alone in my cube in front of the computer…. (either programming, or researching technical specifications, or writing documents, or doing other mundane technical tasks). But is requires concentration, so saying the Jesus Prayer is difficult if not impossible. I also often distract myself (sometimes way too long, and then I have guilt and shame! [I still cannot figure out which it is actually :-)]) by looking at your blog, or emailing friends, or dreaming of travels and looking for cheap airfares… 🙂

    Is there a way to better “sanctify” this kind of work? Am I overthinking it unnecessarily? Do any others on this blog have similar thoughts? Do men have that less than women? Thank you in advance for your help!

  7. Agata, my work is much like yours and I have much the same problem. I have great difficulty seeing it’s worth. It is compounded by the fact that the volumn of my work is dependent on others. Right now it is very slow.

    I have been doing essentially the same job for 35 years. I know a lot but can make use of little and not much is a challenge.

    It is a human problem.

  8. Thank you for this wonderful reminder Fr. Stephen.

    Agata my priest felt the same way in a job he had prior to becoming a full time priest with a salary provided by our parish. His wife told him that his “mundane” work was extremely valuable because the money he received was supporting her and their three children. He was earning an honest living and providing for the needs of his family. So, by serving his family, he was also serving God.

  9. Just what I needed today–thank you! I am not sure how to move forward with a project, and of course I should pray and work, not worry. Thank you for reminding us to find God in all of creation.

  10. Thank you, Father.

    This helps to remind me that the prayer life isn’t only the brief times in our busy day that we stand before the icons. This is important itself, no doubt. But I often forget that when I wash dishes, clean the bathroom, take out the dog, cook dinner, or teach my children something new or simply laugh with them in family time…this is all prayer too. To love my family and my neighbor is worship of God and prayer.

  11. Never a more timely read than on a Saturday full of household chores crying out to be attended to! 🙂 Thank you, Father.

  12. I think that Agata’s question to you Father is shared by many these days… The one little thing that can be of some aid comes from a classic ascetic counsel (St Macarius is one of many that uses such images) : do just as you would if you talked or walked or typed on the computer if a great and most powerful earthly king was closely and continuously watching you (so that you could not brush away the remembrance and awareness of his presence), replacing the earthly with the heavenly.

  13. Agata,
    I had the same problem when I taught in a high school. I’d sometimes go the whole day, so wrapped up in teaching and kids, that I found I only prayed over my lunch. I would feel guilty driving home. At least I could pray on the 12 mile drive home (but often found I didn’t…oh sloth and guilt! ). That’s why last year I asked if our heart could be praying, if that is really our intention, while our mind was occupied with work. Our mind can certainly do more than one task at a time (like trying to recall someone’s name). We try consciously to recall it for a couple of minutes. Then are preoccupied with something else. Suddenly , out of the blue, the name pops up while not even consciously aware that somewhere in our brain folds the name was being processed. It is much easier to pray now that I’m retired. One thing I have done is set my watch to chime every hour. It reminds me to at least pray the Lord’s prayer.

  14. I have often wondered about the origin of the Prayer to the Holy Spirit: ” O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth Who art everywhere present and filled all things…” Is there any information about when it was first used or who wrote it?

  15. Thank you all for your wonderful comments and sharing your experiences.
    Father, I hope you will add your wisdom and advice, please?

    Dino, I am not sure if what you suggest would be helpful, or would bring *me* more anxiety?! 🙂
    How can I possibly be this attentive and this disciplined, to consider myselves in the presence of a King at all times?! I think I would just keep thinking that I am saddening the King all the time and am such a failure….
    Maybe the solution is to say to the King: “Please accept me as I am, and accept the work I do, even if most of the time I am an unprofitable servant”…

    Dean, I too find myself at the end of the day realizing that I have not prayed during the day… But maybe with practice and effort, we can manage just a little bit during the day…
    I love your idea of praying in the car on the way home. Your comment made me realize that I prayed more when I had a very long commute, since I would put the Morning or Evening Prayers on a CD in the car (the morning prayers were 17 mins, the evening prayers were 12). With an hour commute, I had time to pray, talk to my Mom in Poland and then listen to some podcasts too.. Now that my commute is 10 min, I don’t put the prayers on CD on any more…

    Esmee, thank you, your reminder is very helpful also. How true that this “mundane mental” work provides for my family, my church, my future. For some reason this kind of work is valued more in this world and I should be thankful that I have it (I do get my work done despite talking to you all on and offline :-))

    Michael, I think your last sentence says it best: it’s a human problem. From many of Dino’s past comments I learnt to remember that “this side of eternity” many things are broken or don’t have a solution. But “the more we keep our eyes on Christ, the more we walk on water….”. Let us keep our eyes on Christ even researching RoHS compliance… 🙂

    Agata

  16. Thank you for the encouragement, Father!

    Today at a baptism the priest reminded us of the “dance” during the mysteries of the baptism and wedding. He said Jesus Christ wants to celebrate with us in these joyous moments. It feels like there are two stories between believers and non-believers or Christian atheists, manifested in their behaviours during the mystery (albeit perhaps on the superficial level, the faithful were respectfully quiet whereas those who set foot in church only in weddings and baptisms were unattentive and disruptive) and the festivities later (those who attend the Divine Liturgy left early).

    The flip side is that us hypocrites are quiet and go to Church, but feel some form of guilt in celebrating as if there was anything ‘sinful’ in doing so.

    You have often made reference to a life in the Shire, the singing, the common celebration and communal life. Could you comment further on the presence of God and grace in festivals and celebrations and the Orthodox approach to everyday joys of life?

    Your blessing!

  17. Thank you for this.
    I know this…but I forget it…frequently.
    What I see implicit in this post is this question: “What is it that gives anything we do in life meaning?” And the answer I hear you giving is “The value of any action is derived from its sacramental engagement.” The “how” of something is always than the “what”.

  18. Agata,
    For a variety of reasons, we are willing to impute a sacramental quality to digging in a garden or sewing, etc., that we seem not to impute to typing on a keyboard, writing, or answering a phone. I think it’s not in our mental “furniture.” I think we need to get more furniture. Everything is a sacrament. All things for which we give thanks are sanctified.

  19. Agata,
    I think one way to be attentive while doing everything in the presence of the Lord without what you described as an ‘anxiety’ of saddening Him, is to accept (as you yourself answered it) who we are, and remember that we are placed in our specific place, context and job by His providence, His gaze upon how we carry ourselves (even when our calling at that time is to sit in front of a screen) is a loving one (Luke 22:61). His presence should fill us with joy rather than dread, assuredness rather than sadness, our repentance should be about trusting in Him rather than ourselves and should be made manifest to all as an “advertisement” of Christianity rather than a defamation of it. We also need to have our spiritual life anchored securely in our nightime, personal, secret “stance before the Lord” (this is the offering of the first-fruits, like Abel) for our daytime awareness of Him in all mundane or mind-absorbing tasks to be authentic. To the measure of the first is the authenticity and stability of the second perfected.
    Another related thing is what we do with our free time…: if at each rare opportunity we offer it to God, this speaks volumes of our inner intent doesn’t it? And the same goes for the opposite of course, eg if we’d rather watch the TV or something similar when we finally find ourselves alone and free in the house, this could be taken to show that we are cut from the same cloth as Cain.

  20. Agata
    If you deal with anxiety and the idea of being in the presence of the King is troubling, think of Him also as the Lover of Mankind. To be in the presence of He who loves you may comfort you instead of make you anxious.

  21. Living is hard. Whether it’s a job in front of a computer or a stay at home mom or farmer or train conductor…we all live with difficulty, boredom, feeling like we are stuck in the mundane, or feeling like we do not live sacramentally at all or enough.

    I find, as a home educator-stay at home mom, that I can feel simultaneously overwhelmed by the responsibility to raise human beings and the reality of necessary repetition required to raise said human beings. It’s hard to keep reminding children to —fill in the blank—and to treat siblings respectfully. I find it easier to build distraction into my life rather than face these difficulties sometimes. Then my attention span shortens, as does my patience, limiting my ability to do my job well.

    Lord have mercy on us as we learn to look at, and to, Him in all our jobs.

  22. Thank you Father!
    And Dino and Nicholas, I am not particularly anxious, I just always think I could do things better and I know the Lord knows it too… Most of the time I give my best, but sometimes I run out of steam and feel guilty for not giving everything and everybody my 100%. Including the Lord…
    Yes, being in the presence of somebody who loves us would be very wonderful.. Thank you for that image..

  23. Agata, et al, I am a high school English teacher and single mom to two grade school boys. To say that I can go for hours without conscious prayer is an understatement. I am often grateful for the mandatory moment of silence after the pledge in the mornings. At least then, I remember to say the Jesus Prayer and the Our Father. (The irony of a secular school system signaling me to pray is something I often ponder. God’s mercy indeed works in all ways.)

    It has taken me a long time to say, “It is a human problem,” as Michael said. I often wonder if my desire to teach well and show kindness to my students is enough. It seems meager and is often bungled and even full of bitterness and frustration. When Fr. Stephen writes about shame, I usually think of how often I shame my boys out of my own anger and weakness and selfishness. I am often so tired. Lord, have mercy. Indeed, that is often all I am able to say for days on end: Lord, have mercy.

    When I fret over my tiny prayer rule and virtually non-existent fasting, my priest tells me that from what he knows of my day to day life, I do practice asceticism and just need to keep working in that direction. I trust him as my spiritual guide. I often wait for him to increase my duties, but he only says, “Keep doing what you are doing.” I suppose he knows how weak I am and that it’s probably hopeless to try more.

    I don’t think it is “fixable” here on planet Earth . . . trying to accept that reality does feel like a form of asceticism. I am broken, and it is a relief on the days I am able to accept that. The Lord is merciful to me, and to that, I cling.

    As always, the commenters on this blog speak with such love for one other and with profound vulnerability. Thank you.

  24. Anastacia,
    “trying to accept that reality does feel like a form of asceticism…”

    I love that phrase and I think it is true. Jesus said, “Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” (Matt. 6:34 RSV)

  25. Anastaica,
    Oh my goodness!…you are writing exactly what I felt as a high school teacher. Yes! How often I did shame my students out of my own anger and frustration. Lord have mercy…though some I rode hardest during the year, even gang members, sometimes gave me an “abrazo” at year’s end. I wish I had known the phrase you wrote about, which your priest gave you , while in high school teaching years. I will pray for you, Anastacia. Our daughters are teachers also. So it will be easy to remember you, dear lady.

  26. Thank you for another inspiring and challenging word of exhortation, Father. I am reading this before leaving for church, and this is a good reminder that one cannot really separate corporate worship or private devotions from the “mundane.”
    Now, to remember that tomorrow when I am at work.

  27. Anastacia, life has aceticism built into it. We either embrace it in Thanksgiving or run from it. I usually run late but a bit like St. Augustine who moved all over north Africa trying to escape God, no matter how I try to evade it is always there.

    As I age, it becomes increasingly unavoidable — one of the blessings of aging.
    The Gospel this morning about the rich young man who could not give up his riches applies to the mundane things of life too as our priest reminded us.

    Grace also abounds too as I age. Intetestingly the avenue of grace is usually the same as the frustrations-the people around me.

    I like the analogy of the salvific life and a lapidary polisher. In s lapidary polisher, gritty stones are put together with rough stones. In the end the rough stones are polished and made beautiful by the gritty stones around them.

    We are both the grit and the stones to be polished.

    Now, if I can carry that attitude through the week.

  28. Hi Agata, before Divine Liturgy last week I was awake half the night and spent about an hour or two thinking about quitting my job.

    On Sunday morning a visiting priest gave a sermon citing the story of a saint (St. Piesios I think) responding to a women who confided to him that she was planning to quit her job.

    He encouraged her not to and advised her to pray for her coworkers.

    I know that is not a direct response to your question but I just wanted to share how amazed I was to hear such an immediate source of ‘reorientation.’

    I have thought a lot about the monotony of work. A few years ago a reader asked about the connection of work to the Christian life and I have reflected on it often.

    Our parish is such a joyous place. I am amazed to think of the people flowing out into their diversity of jobs during the work week as the yeast that leavens the dough.

    I agree with Father. The computers are new, certainly never referenced in a Psalm. But perhaps our small spaces can put us into fellowship with those we pray for at the Liturgy who are in the ‘caves’ of the earth (I am sorry I do not know the exact phrasing).

    I am in such a similar place. I have realized that I have gone years with about 0 awareness of God during the day following my morning prayers.

    St Theophan in his Guide to the Spiritual Life advised that daily tasks can be used as reminders of God. I have thought of this in doing laundry, trying to remind myself of the kindness of the Lord removing our sins through Confession. Quite mercifully, the task of carrying yet another plate of food to my 8 year old hungry boy was brightened by realizing how Christ hastened to us to give us Himself as Food.

    I do think washing hands and taking breaks at the computer to look far into the distance (every 20 minutes or so as advised by my son’s optometrist) can be reminders.

    I loved reading (somewhere) how the sound of our breathing is like the word Yahweh. I hope that is not an inappropriate comment. I have also begun to just say ‘God how good you are.’ I hope that counts as a prayer.

    I think even the office jobs matter, the quiet jobs. We are somehow tabernacles bringing Christ there too.

    Dino, thank you for your Cain and Able comment. I finally read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims and then failed these past two nights to take the opportunity to sit in silence, opting for TV late at night by myself instead.

    You have helped me to better define the two options.

  29. Dear All (and I mean ALL of you who participated in answering my question, I am so thankful and touched by your comments, caring and sharing).

    I am now actually a bit embarrassed by my lack of watchfulness and acceptance of my situation, I forget how blessed I am to have a good job, a wonderful boss, and really good coworkers. Thank you Nicole, and Anastacia, and Dino, and Michael, and Dean for pointing out all the opportunities to pray that I miss in the day. I pledge to make a better effort starting now.

    Please allow me to share this prayer I was given in one of the monasteries I visit. The Fathers do some of the work on the computers, but told me they always start with this prayer, saying it together at the beginning of their day. It’s just long enough to say (and short enough to memorize in a few days) between my parking spot and the first door where I scan in with my badge. May it bless your Monday morning tomorrow if you read it by then:

    “O Lord Jesus Christ, Only-begotten Son of Thy Eternal Father, Thou has said with Thy most holy lips: “Without Me, you can do nothing.” My Lord and my God, in faith I embrace Thy words with my heart and soul, and bow before Thy goodness; help me a sinner, to do in union with Thee this work which I am about to begin, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

    (it sounds so much more powerful and prayerful when the monks pray it before their work [I witnessed it a few times], in my rendering, as I walk across the parking lot, it seems so flimsy and weak, but I say it anyway, hoping the Lord hears and accepts it anyways).

    With love in Christ,
    Agata

  30. Father Stephen:

    Christ is in our midst.

    I wonder if the Orthodox Church is at times guilty of promoting a two storey universe, and failing to encourage the faithful to see God present everywhere and in filling all things to the degree that its voice is either totally absent from or muted within selective areas of human endeavour?

    Take, for example, the human activities of politics, health/social care, and education: does the Church do enough to encourage or support faithful Christians to resist attempts by secularists to identify these areas as belonging to a supposed purely secular realm of human existence? If part of our Saviour’s mission was not only to reveal God to human kind, but to reveal what it is to be truly human, is there not a danger that in ignoring these realms of our collective human endeavours, we ignore the communal aspect of what it means to be human?

    Perhaps the difficulty is that we cannot speak to the world about the sacred/secular lie when so much in the lives of our own local churches and Patriarchates (our own hearts) remains an image of the fallen, power obsessed world we would seek to heal?

    Perhaps, also, this realisation is part of the ‘little shame’ that we need to bear as Orthodox Christians towards our own healing.

  31. Father Alban,
    He is and ever shall be!
    No doubt, all of us are guilty of living in and promoting a two-storey universe – giving the notion of “secular” an existence it doesn’t deserve. The concept of the secular is the very essence of the culture we live in. Of course, we should do all that the commandments ask of us (social mission, etc.). In more Orthodox cultures in the East, the Church is quite involved in such things in many ways.

    Our tiny presence here makes even the few things we do invisible and the “wall of separation” often mitigates against much of a visible presence. My parish has people who volunteer in the local free clinic, well, actually, one RN. I don’t think anyone else in the parish even knows that she does this – she hasn’t asked for recognition.

    The healing of this does not consist in adding new activities to what we’re doing, but in how we do what we do at any and all times. There are very critical questions: how do we, as Church, become the kind of community that enables people to bear suffering? We cannot eliminate suffering (that’s the error of the Modern Project). But we can serve those who are suffering in such a way that they are more able to bear it.

    This applies to everything. How do we become the kind of community that enables married people to bear the suffering of their calling and the suffering of being a faithful family, raising children? How do we become the kind of community that enables the aged to live in dignity without the terrible, crushing burden of loneliness? How do we become the kind of community that enables adolescents to bear the terrible burden of shame that permeates their young existence?

    We are very weak, and relatively poor, disenfranchised (our votes make no difference), living on the cultural margin. We imagine ourselves to be something we are not (that is, we imagine ourselves to be pretty much like everybody else). As such, we fail to think and understand in a properly radical manner. We should ask small questions (such as those I’ve posed above). If we answer some of those small questions, we will be transfigured.

    Live small. Enable someone today to bear the suffering of their existence.

  32. Dear Agata,

    You have gotten very good advice here. I’ll just add a bit more though.

    I too work at a computer all day. I have found (and studies confirm) that the human body is made to move on a regular basis. Once hourly I try to be faithful to a 3-5 minute routine that includes: a set of stretches, a couple gulps of water, and very brief walk around. It would be very easy to add prayer to that.

    I think you can see the parallel here: The body gets movement and so does the spirit. But keep from get stiff and sore with regular breaks like this.

    You said above that your parking lot prayer “seems so flimsy and weak”, but it’s important to remember that life is made up of small things. Not only that, many small things (regular prayer & movement breaks) are more powerful than one big thing (a job of sitting and concentrating). In fact over time and with diligence, those small things will begin to transform your whole day.

    It is by small things that the evil one takes us down, but by the very same token it is by small things that we can reclaim our lives by giving them back to God – one little piece at a time.

  33. Father bless! Many thanks for all who have commented here.

    I have been sick for several weeks now and, seemingly, unable to get fully well. I finally got some antibiotics and I think they are working slowly to let me regain my health. Interestingly, I found the sickness as a bit of a blessing; much of the sin I tend to fight in my life was simply lost in the illness. I have been thankful for that.

    But yesterday, I suffered a new, unrelated setback that revealed to me how weak I still am. My Mom, in good Mom manner, brought over some food and drink that I could handle along with some medicine. Without my asking, she brought some eggs over as my stomach was quite upset. I thought nothing of it at that time, I actually considered it silly and pointless, but then I ate them this morning for breakfast (realizing that I had nothing else in the house that was good to eat). I now think it the best thing she could have done! How odd not to see, and to even disdain, that blessing yesterday! Simple things are often the least appreciated but the most important. Glory to God! May He give us strength and a heart for seeking Him in all things.

  34. I can’t help but think that some of the “Two Story” mentality that we see in Orthodoxy today is a direct result of us converts not yet fully developing an Orthodox mind. In our parish we have a majority of converts but we also have a fair representation of people who have come to the US from a more Orthodox culture. The differences in expression and thought are marked and I am grateful for those who are deeper in the faith exposing my own needs for further “renewing” of my mind. As I look back, I can see I have come a long ways, but as I look at my elders in the faith, I see I have far to go yet. Is this “Two Story” mindset made inroads into Orthodox culture in the “Old Countries?” I would say yes, because of Westernization that has occurred. That “Two Story” mindset is like Palmetto Bugs in the South. It just keeps creeping in, is hard to kill, and constant measures of mentl cleaning are necessary to keep the infestation at bay.

  35. Father,

    In one of your comments, you wrote, “We cannot eliminate suffering (that’s the error of the Modern Project). But we can serve those who are suffering in such a way that they are more able to bear it.”

    I so often want to do just that, to help someone bear their suffering. But I am usually at a loss for what to say or do. I just sit there in silence, wishing that I knew what to do.

  36. Agata. It is a weak prayer in the sense of God’s strength being made perfect in my weakness. But, the monks praying it together is what you are missing I think.

    I like St. Ephrem’s prayer. Now to actually do it.

  37. The small things that I do seem to give measures of assurance and ‘presence’. One is a paper icon of the Theotokos that I keep in my purse and take a peak when I need her assurance. And another is a small prayer rope in my pocket. Just taking a look at the icon or handling the prayer rope (not necessarily saying a prayer- but more like ‘holding hands with’) when under stress, or engaged in a difficult activity or feeling not so ‘in the spirit’, helps. I try to remind myself in those moments when the Lord seems far from me that it is our adversary that would encourage me to think in such despair. And often, pride is the opening into which I can fall in difficult situations.

    Just listening and caring about what you hear, I believe, helps those who need others to help them with their burdens. –As it happens here!! –I usually don’t know how to help, either. But I can at least listen, and acknowledge someone’s pain and concerns. “Having answers” isn’t always the best support, I think, but just abiding and ‘being with’ someone in need can be all they need.

    Byron, I have said a prayer for your return to health. May this time be a good time for prayer for you!

  38. Hi Drewster,
    Thank you, that is a great reminder.
    Ha ha that you would bring this up! An “immediate source of reorientation”, as Nicole called it above.
    I am a trained Pilates instructor (an after work hobby), so I “preach” movement to my engineering coworkers all the time 🙂 I even offered to teach them some simple and effective movements, but most are not interested. So their bellies grow bigger and bigger, sadly!!
    And I myself am worse and worse at practicing what I preach…

    I shared one set of exercises with Fr. Stephen in the past… Father, can I ask if you ever gave it a try? The Daily Dozen if perfect for priests and monastics 🙂

    Since you are here Drewster, can I ask you a question on an unrelated subject? In the past we discussed kids issues… You mentioned having a rebelling 16 years old. And that he had to wait to be 18 to execute his “freedom” to not go to church any more… Well, I have 3 boys, spanning all these ages and even the 16-year old is putting up a fight about going to church… Have you managed some solution? I pray, but that prayer (for my children to change) is certainly being unanswered for now… I have to thank Dino again here for arming me with patience and the eternal perspective to endure my lack of influence over my children.

  39. Lerningtobestill,
    Many times your silent presence to the one suffering is exactly the right thing to do. We humans don’t know the answers and do not have a salve to cure the suffering, but our patient and quiet presence helps to carry the load. I have done much nursing home ministry in my time and I have nothing to offer the people I see other than myself. I cannot help their minds be clear or their bodies whole, but I can keep them company and just respond in interest to what they talk about. Many people who suffer are terribly alone and your company is more valuable then you can imagine.

  40. Hi Agata,

    Concerning children I don’t remember what I said before , so please forgive any repetition. At that time I forced his hand concerning completing a youth catechism class. That’s what initiated his stated position against church. At that time he let me know 18 couldn’t come soon enough. I accepted that and (I might have mentioned) used the precedent of non-church members and allowed him to go downstairs after the Kiss of Peace.

    He is now 6 months away from his 18th birthday. At this point he is still likely to stop coming to church when he comes of age, but I no longer have anxiety about his outcome. I will probably have him do a few “looking after the house” things while we’re in the service. But we have a very good relationship. He looks forward to talking to me about many things. It’s kind of a trade-off: I initiate conversation about driving exams, school, vocation and life lessons, but in his turn he presents his latest writing ideas, RPG strategies, games he’s been interested in. In other words we have found common ground.

    I think it’s also important to stress that I don’t look at him with puppy dog eyes and a look that communicates, “We have such a good time together. If only you weren’t going to Hell…” I can do this because there are so many ways I screw up in my own life that someone could easily give me the same pitiful look with the loving but misguided notion that I wasn’t going to make it either…and I wouldn’t like it either.

    I concentrate on being the best father and friend I can. Sometimes I am. And I have a firm belief that in the end people return to the last place they experienced love. Enter the Prodigal Son.

    I’m also encouraged by the fact that, other than his uninformed stated belief in no God, he lives no differently than most Christians I know. God loves me and I love my son. I don’t know the fate of my son but I know enough of God to trust Him for another day – mine and the people around me. God is good and He loves me; it all flows from there.

    hope this helps, drewster

  41. Thank you Drewster,
    Yes, that is the background I remembered and I see you have found peace and reasonable compromise in the situation, thank God.
    Basically, our loving acceptance of who they are and what they choose. Not wanting to change them and trusting that God loves them more than we do and has them in His care. (it is also an expression of *our* humility, according to what Dino said in the first comment on the previous post “Standing before the Judgement Seat of Christ”, how wonderful if we can manage).
    You are right that this close trusting connection, rather difficult to achieve with teenagers, is so important.

    May God help us both, and all parents who struggle with similar difficulties – which is probably all parents!

  42. Thank you all, so much, for your kind and humble comments. This whole thread, and its article, have been full of zingers for me.

  43. Learning to be Still,
    I think it was Dee above who said that we often don’t have to say much…just listen. I was at the oncologist this morning with my brother in law who has esophageal cancer. I just sat with him waiting for the doctor. My wife was in the waiting room with my sister. I asked a few questions, but mostly listened to some of the same stories I’ve heard before. He’s angry at God so I don’t “preach” to him at all. Once in a while something comes up where I can, in a very gentle way, relate something of His goodness. He’s usually silent to what I say. He had a very difficult childhood, abandoned by both dad and mom and raised in foster homes. Well, presence does speak, doesn’t it?
    And Agata, prayer is a key for your boys. I rebelled as a teen but the prayers of my mother brought me back to church at 22. A mom’s prayers can cause the “Hound of Heaven” to nip quite severely! 🙂

  44. Dean,

    Amen to prayer being SO important. I am learning this. So many times in the past few years God has asked me to spend time with Him AND to test His faithfulness. He never fails…and I learn only slightly more than that. (grin)

  45. Dean, my father passed away from esophageal cancer; my prayers are with you and your family. May your brother-in-law heal in God’s grace.

    Dee, thank you for your prayers. They are much appreciated. I do not know why this illness continues to hang on me (three weeks and running) but I’ve had to cancel my planned (first) trip to a monastery due to lacking the energy to make the long-ish drive. I’m bummed by that but I know God will allow me to visit in the correct time.

  46. Byron,
    Thank you for your prayers. His name is Don. I will pray also for your monastery visit in God’s timing. They are a blessing.
    Drewster2000. Yes, we can be faithless and prayerless, but God ever works in our weakness, as Father often points out. I echo His faithfulness.

  47. Dear Father Stephen,
    Please forgive me for reneging, so soon, on my promise to take a break from commenting (in light of my recent ‘fiasco’, which BTW had repercussions deeply into other areas and relationships in my life, to my continued horror – but I asked forgiveness where I could, and will continue where I need to…).

    But it was such joy to hear from my father confessor at the monastery, who sent me the prayer “After the Completion of Any Work”, that I have to share it with those who may be interested (for completeness :-))

    “Thou, O my Christ, art the sum and fullness of all that is good; fill my soul with joy and gladness, and save me, for Thou alone art all-merciful. Amen.”

    He added, “Even easier to memorize than the prayer before work….” 🙂

    I also remembered and found this other prayer which Father Anthony Coniaris (a wonderful Greek Orthodox priest and an amazing author from my area) uses before writing (I found it buried in a book catalog article long time ago, which as a treasure of a find, since Father Anthony does not like to talk about himself much. This one is especially for Father Stephen 🙂 )

    “Lord, Your Fullness, for my emptiness, to Your greater Glory”.

    Thank you for this opportunity to share prayers. And again, I ask forgiveness of anybody I offended.
    Agata

  48. I so often come back to your counsel to live small. I am a middle aged mother with two children now out of the nest and one at home. I taught outside the home for more than two decades and have “done” a lot of things. Being at home with one child now and just trying to be faithful to the tasks that I have is sometimes a challenge in the sense that it never feels like I am doing enough. I am constantly reminded by the immense suffering all over the world at any time, and like so many others I feel helpless and just want to bury my head.
    My daughter and I volunteer at one local ministry monthly. And I have learned so much from that as I think she has. She has been there with me since she was two, so it just seems normal to her.
    I have an Emily Dickinson poem framed on my wall and I often refer to it as a reminder to live small.

    If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.

    Father,bless.

  49. Agata & Drewster,

    Our son also has found it more appealing to work shifts at the fire station (he’s a POC firefighter/EMT) or sleep in rather than come to church since he came of age. He is 20. We pray about this, and I often remind myself I have been entrusted him to the care of the Theotokos since he was small and God is faithful. I had recently made this particular issue the subject of prayer again when one of his high school friend’s mother died unexpectedly and the very next week the teen daughter of a colleague committed suicide. We cut our family vacation short, so he could come home to attend the funerals that were on the same day. Immediately after that, he asked to accompany us to my husband’s Evangelical church in which he grew up. Likely, he will not attend church with the kind of dedication and regularity we would like to see, but it is clear the door is still open and he knows the way when he is ready. We both talk to him openly about spiritual things from our relationship with God and he listens. (If he was resistant, we would probably stay mostly silent.) He knows we love him. These things cannot be forced. God respects our freedom and works from within, so I focus on prayer and loving my children.

  50. Emmie,
    Beautiful poem! I’ll copy and put it where I can memorize it. Karen, Agata, and all with children. Yes, what a challenge in our day and age. All we can do is, as said above, love them and entrust them to the Lord’s keeping. I do the same for our grandchildren also. God knows what they need and He loves them far more than we. I didn’t attend church 18-22. But love and prayers of others brought me back. Thank God for His faithfulness!

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