(Part 2 of 2)
Relationship with God
Q: How to prevent my relationship with God from growing cold with how busy life is? (Female, Age 27)
A: If I'm being honest, busyness is something I struggle with, and trying to fit God in my schedule can feel like a futile effort some days. Life is busy, and it will only get busier and busier. If I try to tackle everything in life all on my own, I feel depleted by the end of the day. It’s my relationship with God that carries me and gives me strength. If I skip that time, then I'm running on empty. If we recognize that our relationship with God is the glue that holds together our hectic life, we'll hold on and never let go.
Even being busy with good things, like service, can hinder our relationship with God if not done in the proper order. That order being that you first must fill your cup before pouring into others, and the only way to do that is to sit at Christ’s feet like Mary, the sister of Lazuars, did. Martha was distracted by much serving and the Lord called her out for that (Luke 10:38-42).
I'm currently reading (technically, listening) to a book called Crazy Busy by Kevin Deyoung. In it he says something that struck me, "Busyness kills more Christians than bullets." Think about that. How many of us kill ourselves spiritually because we are too busy to meet with the life-giver?
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God." We cannot truly know who God is unless we are still. So let us put aside our busyness and be still in His presence.
Q: What to do when I get lazy to pray, what should keep me going? (Female, Age 15)
A: When done right, Prayer becomes the spiritual breath we live by, and by cutting ourselves off from that we cut ourselves off from our life line. Realize that prayer is not just about your sacrifice to God, but about taking life-giving things from Him. Pope Shenouda said the following about prayer:
"Some people think that in praying they are giving to God. They give Him words, time, and feelings. But prayer in its depth is a matter of taking from God. He is the giver not the taker. The one who succeeds in his prayer is the one who prays and feels that he is taking from God. When you pray and feel that you took power, blessings, repentance, and strength from God, then you succeeded in your prayers. God is telling you come, 'come pray and I will give you.' But you pray for 2 minutes, and then you become bored and then you leave without taking anything from Him. God looks at you and wonders, 'Why did you leave early without taking. I wanted to give you. Why did you leave without taking anything from Me?'"
Let the promise of all those things be your motivation to show up in prayer.
Q: Many of us during lent continually get closer with God and have that apex during Holy Week and Resurrection. How can we continue with that spiritual “high” following the fast? (Male, Age 26)
A: It’s a wonderful thing that you are able to get closer to God during lent and Holy Week, it’s usually during these holy times that the devil tries even harder to bring us down. Try to keep up the spiritual practices you developed during this time even after we’ve celebrated the Feast of the Resurrection, besides fasting from food of course. You can still “fast” from the sins that you struggle with. Keep up your spiritual life just as you were during lent. If lent was a time of planting for you, then use the time to follow for watering. There is still much maintenance that is needed to grow your relationship with God even deeper.
“Thirst after Jesus, and He will satisfy you with His love.”
- St. Isaac the Syrian
Q: How do we overcome jealousy and other sins that are overlooked, like laziness etc.? (Female)
A: First step to overcoming any sin is recognizing that it’s there in the first place. So you're already on the right track. We have to get closer to God, and only through being in His light, we can see the darkness in us and see our sins for what they are. It’s easy to fall into temptation when we are far from Him. Reading and knowing His word is one way to fight sin. Just look at how Christ quoted scripture when Satan tempted Him on the mountain. I know this is the typical Sunday school answer you probably didn't want to hear, but it’s the common answer for a reason: because it’s the most effective!
Jealousy in particular can be a tricky one, if you haven't read this blog posts on jealousy and comparison, I recommend starting there. To overcome any sin you have to be proactive about doing the complete opposite of it. The antidote to jealousy is gratefulness. If you focus on all there is to thank God for, I can’t imagine you’d have the time to wonder about what you don’t have. Don't waste your time comparing, because nothing good ever comes out of it. Instead look at what God has given you and make sure you are being a good steward of it. If it’s laziness, then be proactive about being active. Find things that motivate you in your spiritual life. For me, it’s that peace and stillness that I find when I sit with God among the chaos of my regular day to day life.
Q: How should priest kids handle being under the “spotlight”? I.e people at church putting us on a pedestal and watching our every move and asking questions, and treating us different than other teens/kids our age. We sometimes feel like we can’t be ourselves or have freedom because people at church are constantly watching us and having expectations of us. Thoughts on how to deal with that? (Female, Age 16)
A: I may not be a priest’s kid, but I definitely can empathize with you on being in the "spotlight." The first thing you have to remember is that you cannot please everyone, that is humanly impossible. If you live your life trying to please everyone, you will be pulled in a hundred opposing directions, and that's no way to direct your life. The only person that you should be trying to please is God. If you're doing right by Him, then that's all that matters. Try not to focus so much on their perspective and how they see you. Be grounded in who you are in Christ, and no one will be able to shake you. Also remember that as God chose your dad to serve, He also chose you and the rest of your family, and He’ll never call you to something and leave you.
Sometimes you have to take people’s comments with a grain of salt, and give them the benefit of the doubt that it came from good intentions. I get interesting comments all the time (in-person and online). If there is some truth to those comments I'll take them and re-evaluate my actions, but if there isn't then I have to brush them off. Also, don't feel like you have to always answer people's questions. There is a respectful way to decline answering questions if you don't feel comfortable sharing. I get that our culture may not be great with boundaries, but don't be afraid to set yours.
To everyone else that's reading this, please realize that priests and their families are people too. We all face the same exact struggles you face. We're not immune to sinning and making mistakes. Don't put anyone on a pedestal. Our kids are just like your kids, so treat everyone the same.
Here is something Karen Ayoub, a friend of mine, who happens to be a PK shared with me:
“While I realize that the experiences of priest’s kids (PKs) are not the same across all Orthodox, jurisdictions, generations, and geographical regions, I wanted to share my experiences, which some may find relatable.
There really is a pedestal, like you say. Sometimes, there is danger in that people will hold PKs to unrealistic and unattainable standards. On the flip side, a PK might feel as though they are "good enough" as a person, or as a Christian, because people see them on that pedestal. I've definitely experienced both sides of this coin. And as a result, identity formation was a struggle for me growing up.
This notion of a "pedestal" set me apart from many of my peers when I was growing up, and I didn't like it. For the longest time, I just wanted a friend. I wanted to fit in, to not be different! And glory to God, in due time, He brought several amazing friends into my life that don't treat me differently. So, I encourage and ask that you all extend love and friendship to PKs in your parish. Teach your kids to see them as equals. Get to know them for who they are, instead of seeing them only as someone’s son or daughter.
Compassion and understanding go a long way as well. Like any kid or teenager, PKs are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be - not who others want them to be. Let them explore, let them make mistakes, let them be human. Let them live beyond this label.”
Friendship (Answered by Sherry Sourial)
Q: What do you do when you feel like you have no one? When you feel like you no one truly cares for you and all your friends are not genuine? How do I step out of my bubble and make new friends even if you're extremely socially awkward? How do you overcome the anxiety that comes with meeting new people and making friends? (Female, Age 15)
A: The moments in my life when my closest friends have walked out, were some of the darkest moments I have had to live through. The feeling of loneliness and the longing for authentic companionship was deep and aching. And yet, through that valley, Christ was with me. He was the only One that I had to turn to, and the only One that supported me, and even understood what I was feeling (remember that His own closest friends fled in His darkest moment of need).
After going through this a couple of times, the lesson became clear. He will always be the only constant in my life, and He is the only best friend that I can count on to be there for me no matter life’s circumstances. And it seems like every time I get comfortable in a friendship and start to invest in that relationship more than the one I have with my lifelong BFF, it happens again… that person fails me, leaving me to seek my Lord once again.
The lesson is clear: “Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help” (PS146:3). And yet, it’s unfortunate that I have to learn and relearn this lesson over and over. It’s a wonder that He still stands by me through it all.
Once you learn this lesson, and embrace God as the one friend you ever truly need, it becomes much easier to make friends, because you’re not placing the burden on them to fill a void in your life. You love them while you have them, enjoy the beauty of their presence as a gift from God, and if He decides that the relationship has met its purpose in your life and it’s time to move on, your trust in Him allows you to move on with grace.
If you want to make friends that truly align with you, it’s critical that you show up unabashedly as your most authentic self, even if that self is awkward; good friends will overlook that awkwardness. This creates a natural vetting process that attracts the people you vibe with. So take the time to figure out what that looks like and how you want to manifest it in your actions.
Q: What do you do if you deal with “fake friends” at church? What happens if you feel alone at church? You attend all fellowship but there is nothing there. You get left out of lots of personal “friend” gatherings. (Female, Age 15)
A: This happens much more often than you think; and it’s not just at church, it’s everywhere. But don’t be discouraged! In the dry season of friendship, take the time to cultivate your relationship with Christ and recognize Him as the Supreme friend of your life. The wisdom that comes with aligning with God will allow you to recognize the friendships that are worth pursuing. Invest in those friendships by following up, lending a helping hand, showing you care, and other acts of kindness.
Take control of your social life. Be intentional with who you spend time with and who you want in your inner circle, and do what any true friend would do: love and pray for the other. Don’t focus so much on the negative aspects of the social settings you are in, that’s a waste of your energy. Instead, redirect your energy towards identifying the people you want to spend time with and go ahead and do just that. Another hint: there is a world full of good people outside of our community. Do not discount the beauty you will undoubtedly find in others at school, community service events, work, or wherever you might find God’s children.
Q: How do we know which are the right people in our lives to give the benefit of the doubt to? (Female)
A: I don’t think there is a way to know for sure, at least not always. I recommend having a consistent approach with people that aligns with your values. Continue to be observant of those you interact with, identifying patterns in their behavior that will allow you to make more informed decisions in the future.
Meanwhile, the wisdom you seek comes from God alone:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5)
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a parent, and how are you working on/ dealing with it? (Female, Age 27)
A: There are way too many challenges to mention in just one blog post. Parenting is hard, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done and still doing. No amount of parenting books can prepare you for what’s coming.The biggest challenge for me is not being able to control everything. As someone who likes to be in control, this was a struggle, especially during the newborn stages where so many things feel like they are out of your hand, and just life circumstances in general. I read once in Parenting Towards the Kingdom that the goal isn’t to control our kids, but to equip them so they can make the right decisions all on their own. There are so many possibilities of messing up as a parent, and that scares me.
I think God is teaching me many things through parenting, and one of them is that I am not the one who’s in control but He is and I must depend on Him and not myself.
Q: Why don't you have a blog or a section of your blog for preadolescent and adolescent boys? I understand this may not be your niche but I've seen some of your blogs and you do well with that as well, and perhaps inviting guest bloggers would be good too! There is definitely a need for this. (Male, Age 14)
A: Many (if not, most) of my blog posts are unisex! Meant for the benefit of both young males and females alike. Check out these guest blog posts by some male role models in our community. If there is a topic you’d like to hear more about, I’d love to know what it is! If you like listening to podcasts, I can recommend The Righteous Man podcast, which is a podcast for men by men. The topics might be geared more towards an older audience, but I’m sure there are many things you can benefit from as well.