A Cure for Despondency: Addressing Despondency and Inter-Generational Tension in the Church

This past weekend, I was blessed to have the opportunity to speak at the biennial national assembly of the Ladies Philoptochos Association of Canada, a department of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada) that assists the Church with philanthropy and service.

I was asked to speak about despondency (acedia), one of the primary spiritual passions, and how it can affect group dynamics, particularly with regards to generational divisions in the Church.  It was a difficult but healing topic for me personally, and it forced me to really tune into an issue that is tempting to ignore because it can be so painful. It also forced me to reach across the generational divide and face the issue with people of older generations. What a blessing it was to grapple with the pain of this problem together, and hope alongside one another for the healing available to us and to our parishes through Christ.

Many who attended requested I post the transcript so it could be shared with others. Due to its length, I thought it would be better to post as a .pdf, which you can access by clicking this link: PhiloptochosTalk2017

In the meantime, here is an excerpt from the talk to whet your appetite:

I believe that there is something that comes before the apathy, and long before the symptoms of despondency begin to show themselves. That something is pain. Essentially, we turn to despondency to avoid or cover up our wounds.

In English, to “care” comes from an old Germanic word that once meant to cry, to lament. But we hardly need a linguist to tell us this. We know—as women, as human beings—that to care about anything or anyone (be it the poor, the nation, the Church, our children) is to open ourselves up to the possibility of pain. It is to open ourselves to the frailty of existence, to the reality of brokenness. In short, to care is to cry. To care is to be in pain.

As women who are actively involved in serving the Church, particularly with regards to the poor, there are a number of unique areas where we may experience pain. The first, of course, is the condition of poverty itself. Today, impoverishment and vulnerability come in numerous forms—not just financial need, but also physical, emotional, and spiritual infirmity. Things like drug addiction, domestic abuse, mental illness, depression, or hopelessness. Whatever little we have to offer—a monetary donation, for example, or a warm meal—may feel like a drop in the bucket of the vast oceans of brokenness that surround us.  

That is a valid source of pain. But for now, I want to address a wound that is closer to home. And that involves all the interpersonal issues that can hinder Christian service. After all, we do not serve the Church merely as individuals, but as part of a body, members of a family. And like all bodies and families, sometimes there are sore spots among us. Points of tension. Ailments. Injuries. At times, these sore spots not only get in the way of love and service, they also induce the growth of despondency in our hearts. One particular source of tension in our communities is that which exists between the older and younger generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in Canada. The Philoptochos is not immune to this tension. The older generations tend to prefer one way of doing things, the younger generation another. Moreover, it is increasingly difficult to attract and maintain younger members in the Church, which inadvertently creates imbalances that can fuel even more tension.   

Over time, these little generational discordances can compound and harden into despondency, first manifesting as symptoms like anger, sadness, fear of change, and even verbal outbursts, and then dulling into chronic numbness, boredom, distraction, resignation, and sadness.

How do we begin to heal from these types of dynamics? I don’t have much healing to offer in and of myself–but with Christ all things are possible! My paper explores some words of Christ that offer a beginning. I pray it is a small encouragement to folks who are struggling with these dynamics in their own parishes and organizations.

4 comments:

  1. Nicole your seminar was of great value to all who attended
    . Congratulations on a topic well researched and delivered so that all could understand.

    1. Thanks Eugenia! It was a blessing to take part. I hope you’re able to rest a little now that the conference is over 🙂

    1. I hope it’s helpful Margaret! Let me know what points stick out to you and what is helpful/ not helfup! This is probably something I will do more with in the future and would love the feedback 🙂 Take care and God bless!

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