“So how bad is it I have a really hard time paying attention in liturgy?” my 13-year-old asked as we were driving to Church a few Sundays ago. “Oh babe,” I said, “I am so right there with you. It’s hard for me to stay focused as well.”
Me being notoriously absentminded (Thanks, dad, for the wireless key locator!), this admission wasn’t so much shocking to her as it was comforting, because what’s more disheartening than struggling alone?
It is extremely difficult, all of it! Growing up, parenting, salvation…
I want my kids to go ahead and embrace that irrefutable fact instead of wasting precious hours or even years on agonizing over their setbacks and weaknesses. Nor do I want them, or myself for that matter, to spurn what is challenging, humbling, demanding.
An addiction to ease and surface level comfort, well it’s like choosing to eat birthday cake instead of whole grains and vegetables for every meal: insanely delicious at first but hardly fortifying. You have to train and retrain your palate through making deliberate healthy decisions about what you put in your body to love and crave what is truly nourishing.
Thus despite the struggle, I keep on showing up for Church services, reigning in my wandering thoughts every five seconds or so that I might lay aside all earthly cares and receive the King of All. I keep on working at my faith, stumbling frequently but assured of God’s patience, because on the other side of my efforts lies access to a mysterious oasis of inner rootedness and calm.
When else in my busy, over stimulated life do I tap into stillness? The Divine Liturgy removes from me all the noise and distractions that keep me from contemplating the state of my soul. The fight to pay attention strengthens my spiritual muscles making me better prepared to restrain myself from giving in to the impulses tempting me to speak when I should be quiet, to judge when I should repent, to gorge on worldly pleasures, and to despair when I should cling to God by simplifying, seeking first after His righteousness, and serving my neighbor.
The Kingdom of God is not a fluffy pillow or a down mattress. It is found by the nun sleeping on a board, or the elderly woman suffering in her hospital bed. The Kingdom of Heaven is a spiritual condition that no earthly situation can overcome. The nun sings songs, and the afflicted woman offers pure prayers. They both go through hardships that draw them closer to Christ.
You may ask yourself, “How can I suffer as they do?” You need not live in a monastery or a hospital to experience this growth; you can participate in the same perfecting journey by unconditionally loving and serving those around you. Do you hear bad things about someone? Then pray for them! Do you have a disagreement with someone? Then humble yourself and apologize! Loving your enemies and being modest are difficult tasks, yet they are perfecting works.
When God sees our struggles to put aside our ego, He will grant us strength. When He sees us acting on our desire to enter into the Kingdom of His love, then He will help us in our time of need. No one shall ever perish from seeking after God.
What gives witness to God’s Kingdom in this hurting world more than mere words and arguments (especially heated ones) ever could?
A soul at peace, a heart overflowing with mercy, and eyes fixated on goodness, light and beauty!
I am what I consume. Give me more and more and ever more of Christ.