As a Christian, I have always believed in the transforming Grace of God. Just like I’ve always believed in so many other tenets of the faith. And yet, there’s belief and there’s belief. I’ve gone through many spiritual phases in my 63-year journey of faith, including:
(1951-1967) Presbyterian childhood, with Sunday School, vacation Bible school, and church camps and retreats, all of which I loved. I happily accepted the faith of my parents, but even the Westminster catechism—which I memorized and recited before the elders at our church when I was nine in order to become a communing member—couldn’t save me from an early battle with eating disorders, anxiety and depression.
(1967-1970) Campus Crusade for Christ influences in high school and freshman year at Ole Miss. I kept a journal during those years, which reflects an upbeat faith and hope for a joyful life, but also recurring frustrations with things in my life that overwhelmed me. The battles from childhood continued and were compounded by the trials of adulthood.
(1970-1987) “Home church” which met in several forms in our home when my husband and I were newlyweds and beyond. This is what I call my “Jesus freak” years. The group of Christians we gathered with for seventeen years eventually became part of the canonical Orthodox Church, but there were lots of unhealthy practices during our journey to the Church. Those childhood battles intensified during this time.
(1988-1993) Early years as part of the Orthodox Church. Excitement over the newness of our official church home was followed for me by several years of spiritual darkness, culminating in my first serious dark night of the soul.
(1993-2000-ish) My “nun phase.” These years were filled with head-coverings, long hours spent in prayer, confession, counseling, many pilgrimages to monasteries, and reading volumes of spiritual books by the early Church fathers, especially monastics. There were a couple of years in the ‘90s where I felt I experienced a transcending joy and peace I had never known. But it didn’t last. I went to some extremes and my zeal eventually waned.
(2001-present) Mid-life moderation. Surviving cancer during the first year of the twenty-first century, and watching my youngest child leave home for college brought me to my knees, as did the events of 9/11 and our oldest son’s first deployment to Iraq. But I’ve managed to find some balance, and to moderate some of those extremes in my life. And yet I still find myself overcome on many days with the same demons I’ve been fighting for six decades.
Last night I let my anger get the best of me and stewed about something for several hours before going to bed. I woke at 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I went to our prayer corner and asked God’s forgiveness for the anger. And then I read this quote in our Daily Lives, Miracles and Wisdom of the Saints Calendar.
When we declare ourselves to be disciples of Christ, we claim that we want Him to cure our spiritual and moral disease. Yet in truth we want Him to relieve the symptoms, such as misery, discontent, despair, and so on. Jesus, by contrast, knows that He cannot relieve these symptoms unless e overcomes their deep, inner cause. And this is where the problems arise. While we would like to be rid of the symptoms, we stubbornly resist the efforts of Jesus to penetrate our souls. We do not want our deep-set feelings and attitudes to be changed. But only when we truly open our souls to the transforming grace of God will the symptoms of spiritual disease begin to disappear.—Saint John Chrysostom
What hit me about these words was the fact that I’ve been praying the same prayers for my whole life. “Please help me lose weight.” “Please help me be at peace with so-and-so.” “Please help me overcome depression and be happy.” And recently, “Please take away this pain in my neck and leg.” All prayers aimed at the symptoms rather than at my soul. So, this morning as I stood before my icons reading these words, I prayed:
Of course I still want to lose weight and have less pain and depression and more peace and joy. But I also want God to cure my spiritual and moral disease. I guess it always comes back to seeking Him first….