The wisest way to proceed in life, I’ve often been advised, is to go slowly. Don’t make impulsive decisions. Don’t respond to emails immediately. Set down that phone and PRAY before you reply to a text. And. Attend services every chance you get.
If that’s the only advise I ever receive from my confessor I’d be well counseled and just as “falling short” as ever! It seems that I’m always behind, rushing to catch up and never, ever the calm, collected, prayerfully peaceful individual I daily ask God to create in me. This New Year is no exception and I find myself stumbling forward, feeling way behind every step of the way.
Stumbling into the New Year, already behind
Back in December my Mom came down with COVID and I brought her into my home to care for her. Weathering this change was a huge bundle of challenges. I found myself praying constantly, often completely overwhelmed and yet I seemed to find the blessings waiting for me around every corner. The last article I wrote here I spoke about finding the gift in imperfection. The sense that each step during this huge transition was blessed and full of grace was palpable for me. I didn’t doubt or worry about the bigger picture. And I looked forward to a blessed Nativity through all the changes.
And then I hit a whole new level of challenge and I completely spun out! All sense of peace, blessing and grace flew away from me.
Every plan B and plan C fell apart. My to-do lists failed. Nothing on my calendar came together the way I’d planned. And even my health tanked!
Coming out of the past 10 days of darkness and despair, even depression, hasn’t been easy and I’m still grappling with the lessons I’m learning. The aspect of this I wanted to share about here was on missing services—not as some dogmatic “it would have been easier spiritually and emotionally if you’d gone to services no matter what, you know” but as a real, substantive loss that I know many of us single parents struggle with for many reasons.
A journey through aloneness
Whenever I think of missing services I think back to two key times in my journey. The first key time of deep aloneness was the 3 years I was homeless while a catechumen, feeling completely lost and unable to reach out to come home until Saint Herman rescued me and my girls. I’ll never forget the way that the hymns came back to me when I was all alone in that dark, dark place.
The other key time was when my son was a baby and instead of the experience of when my girls were babies, when I’d wrap them up and go off to any service at any time (I was desperate for services after those years without any!), I found that 2 toddlers and an infant-in-arms didn’t wrap up as neatly as my girls did. Often I’d find myself rocking my son to sleep after tucking the girls in, thinking of the vigil I was missing and silently praying that the ministry of momming in that season would be “enough.”
Pandemic times, alone in new ways
Now, many of us have missed so many services due to illness—either our own or our family members, or the days when churches were closed or when priests and others haven’t been able to serve a service. These past two years have opened up a new chasm of at-home-“alone” for many of us on many new levels. Of course I know of typica services, and I treasure our icon corner, the YouTube services available to us and the prayers that go with us through everything.
But there is something so tangible and literally comforting in the communion of a service that leaves a gaping hole when I cannot be there with my family. So tonight I sit here at home—still too ill to attend services this week—remembering all those other times and seasons when I was far, far from home and the many nights I was without a vigil. In these moments that sometimes seem like they will last forever I remember that I’m always brought home no matter how dark the valley is on the way.
Somehow remembering those other times I’ve wandered alone in deep despair only to be brought home helps me know that this too is part of the journey—the aloneness reminds me to cherish the togetherness that I go far beyond taking for granted so many times. Those years before I came home were a depth of aloneness that included a running-from-God despair that I never need to feel again no matter how long before I am able to get back to a service with my church family. And whenever an unavoidable momming or other family crisis pulls me away from where I long to be—such as sitting home sick this year from the Theophany vigil and liturgy—I rest in the mystery that my priests are serving the service, my church family is chanting the prayers and most importantly my Lord Jesus Christ sanctified the waters, the world and all of creation when he was baptized in the Jordan.
Thank God for his love for us and for preserving his church—the complete and total cure for our lost, aloneness that we might all never be truly alone again. Just as Christ was revealed to the world as a part of the Trinity on Theophany so our aloneness was completely erased. Whether we get to a service or not, this is the truth, this is reality!
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest!
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
And called Thee His beloved Son!
And the Spirit, in the form of a dove,
Confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself
And hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!
If you are without a service, what encourages you and lifts up your faith?
What a beautiful reflection. I am feeling this so keenly, so often, throughout these pandemic years. It’s hard to redirect that to gratitude and joy, and sometimes it just tries to stay loneliness. Thanks for this. It’s really helpful to remember that this is the experience we’re all having so often these days.
Thank you Elissa. None of us are alone in feeling alone much of the time! Thank God for His presence and the cloud of witnesses around us!
Good words, Elise. I do not know you all that well, but I know your faith is real. You have traveled far, into a Safe Place.
Thank you for your comment. God is so good to never leave us where He finds us! Glory to God!