What God desires for us and what we desire from God resembles more of a crossroads rather than two railroad tracks running parallel with each other. Theoretically, and perhaps in the back of our minds, we may know that God desires that we strive towards holiness, but practically speaking and in our everyday lives we may not feel like we are seeking the same thing.
Conforming our will to the will of God is a tremendous challenge. It is a battle that most of us will fight to our last day. The battle, for those who engage in it—because there are many who will not—can feel very exhausting at times, causing us to wonder if we can go on. Finding ourselves in a world that demands so much of our time and attention, it can seem almost impossible to balance a spiritual life with our worldly responsibilities. I often hear from people, “I don’t see how I can do all of it: run errands, raise the kids in a quality way, attend meetings, cook, clean, and then at the end of the day pray or make it to church services.”
What it often boils down to is two things. One, we feel alone in all of this, thinking that we have to accomplish all of it on our own. Secondly, we have the tendency to segregate ourselves into two different lives, our spiritual life and our “other” life, whatever we believe that is. A perfect example of this is, “I can’t take care of the kids and then have enough energy at the end of the day to say my prayers.” Or, “I can’t work all day long and then expect to go to a service at the church because I am exhausted and wouldn’t have time for anything else.”
This either/or type of thinking is a setup for frustration and a sense of failure. Orthodoxy does not teach us to separate what we “do” on a daily basis from who we “are” in Christ, rather it integrates the two. To separate what we do and who we are striving to become (Christ-like) is in fact a very dangerous thing. It invites the idea that we can act and be one way in one situation and place and another way in a different situation and place. I think you can see the potential problem with this.
St Paul instructs us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2).” To conform to this world, and I think you know what this entails, is ultimately incompatible with conforming to God’s will. But how are we to go about conforming to God’s will? This is a big question, and it would require more than what time and space would allow in this article. For our purposes here, however, I would offer two thoughts. One, we need to begin seeing our life and all that we do each and every day, no matter what setting we’re in, as an offering of prayer. Whether we are at work, with the kids or volunteering somewhere, we offer our work to God, baptizing and sanctifying our efforts. We don’t separate what we do from who we are striving to become. This way, in all our thoughts, in all our words and with all our actions, we offer up to God our life, even when at times we “mess up” our prayers both in word and deed.
I included “when we mess up” because most of us when we lose our cool, or miss the mark in some way, immediately want to throw in the towel. We break down emotionally and feel defeated. Much of this is from our own pride, thinking that we ought to always be in control and always do things right. Keep in mind that our Lord does not desire perfection from us, but that we endure. It is not perfection but rather persistence that must be our focus. We allow for failure, accepting it as part of the process, yet we press on knowing that stumbling along the way is part of the course. So when we work, let us think of what we are doing as an offering to God. When we are with the kids and struggling with impatience, know that this is part of the purification process as we come to see our sinfulness and shortcomings, something that is needed for spiritual growth. We must cease dividing up what we do from who we are becoming. A perfect example of this is offered to us in the feast of Theophany.
When our Lord Jesus Christ descended into the Jordan River to be baptized by John, He sanctified the water and by extension sanctified all of creation. According to St. John of Damaskos, the baptism of our Lord had many purposes, some of which were to reveal the Holy Trinity, to be a model for our own baptism, and to wash the sin and bury the old Adam in the water. In addition to these, however, he says that our Lord’s baptism was to simply “bless” the water and to make that which was ordinary, holy.
This is my second thought, that we take what is ordinary, such as our life and what we do, and consecrate it to become that which is holy, who we are striving to become. The church, for example, offers ordinary olive oil for the sacrament of Holy Unction and simple bread and wine for Holy Communion. How beautiful it would be if we were to take this and apply it to our own life. That is, to offer our life to Christ in order to be sanctified so that we might become precious vessels and lights in the world and instruments of healing to others.
This process, which begins with our own baptism when we are purified, sanctified through water and the Spirit, must be renewed daily. Our journey form ordinariness to holiness requires a daily commitment. It also requires looking at life from a different perspective. We can no longer separate how we act around co-workers, classmates and colleagues, from how we act around those in our church. We must be one in the same no matter where we are. It also requires, as I’ve said, that we make ALL that we do on a daily basis a means of attaining holiness, like our Lord did when by touching the water He sanctified all else in creation.
The feast of Theophany reminds us that we were created for holiness and that we are to consecrate our lives to Christ our God and to serve one another in a spirit of simplicity and humility. My prayer for all of you is that what God desires for you and what you desire for yourself becomes the same thing. May you see your role as father, mother, sibling, boss, employee, or whatever it is as an opportunity to sanctify your life as an offering to God “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect”.
A Blessed Theophany and a healthy New Year,
With love in Christ,