Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lord Have Mercy

I have always considered myself a competent person. I rarely lack confidence in my ability to do something that I set my mind to. If there is something that I want or need to accomplish, I find out what I need to know and go out and do my best to get it done. I have always had this sense of being capable and I certainly never had any problems with self-esteem. In other words, I have always been pretty proud of myself and my abilities.

Then I had kids.  

And I learned that my view of myself was rather skewed. 

I learned that I am not so perfect as I thought I was, and I have learned that I have many faults (gasp!). I have become aware, thanks to the little imitators running around my house, that I am not so kind and loving as I always liked to think. 

There are so many situations, so many unexpected challenges that come with raising children that force me, again and again, to acknowledge that I am just not a perfect person and I really do not have all it takes to mother my children the way I ought. Being a mother has driven me to my knees and has forced me to seek help.  

I am broken and sinful and I need God. And so I seek Him and I ask for mercy. 
 Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 
For a long time when I said the above prayer (which is known as the Jesus Prayer) I thought that I was saying something like this: "Lord, take pity on me and do not punish me for my sins, even though I am such a wretched sinner."

But then I learned something about two of the words in that prayer that changed the whole thing. I learned that sinner, in Greek, refers to one who has missed the mark. It's someone who has aimed poorly and so has missed his intended target.

Then I learned the following about the word "mercy": 

"The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for 'Lord, have mercy,' are 'Kyrie, eleison'  that is to say, 'Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.' Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal  a very Western interpretation  but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray 'Lord, have mercy,' with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy."* (source)

So when I say the Jesus prayer, I am now able to hear it more like this: "Lord, pour out Your healing oil on me, one who has missed the mark, so that I might no longer miss it." 

Of course this has also changed the way that I pray for others. I can say "Lord, have mercy on my child, or my spouse, or Miss Smith" and with these thoughts in mind the prayer no longer comes from a place of judgement or condemnation, but instead comes from a place of love. By saying Lord, have mercy, I am asking God to heal and comfort and soothe the person I pray for, rather than asking Him to change and fix and straighten out that person. 

And so, day by day, I have learned to seek help from the Only One who can heal my brokenness and who can change me for the better, so that one day I might not miss the mark anymore, but instead aim true and be whole. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Glory to God

Glory to God...

... for rainy days

... for the sound of children's laughter.

... for giant zucchini from a garden that I almost didn't plant this year

... for purple basil. 

... for Saturday because it means Vespers and that tomorrow is Sunday. 

Glory to God for all things! 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Holy Martyr Marina

 Saint Marina IconThe Holy Great Martyr Marina is commemorated on July 17 in the Orthodox Church. Her witness to the world for the sake of Christ is a breathtaking example of what it means to love the Lord with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength. She endured unbelievable tortures and sufferings because she loved her Bridegroom more than her own life. St. Nikolai expounds upon this in his reflection below: 

Until Christ becomes all for the soul completely all which generally has a certain permanent and unchanging value, until then, man cannot enter into suffering for Christ. How could St. Marina the fifteen-year-old girl enter into suffering for Christ? For to her, Christ was all completely all! ... Behold, how St. Tikhon of Zadonsk speaks in detail of how Christ is all to man in the form of a conversation between Christ and man:

Do you desire blessedness? Every blessedness is in Me.

Do you desire beauty? What is more beautiful than Me?

Do you desire nobleness? What is more noble than the Son of God and the Holy Virgin?

Do you desire height? What is higher than the Kingdom of Heaven?

Do you desire riches? In Me are all riches.

Do you desire wisdom? I am the Wisdom of God.

Do you desire friendship? Who is a kinder friend than I Who lay down My life for all?

Do you desire help? Who can help except Me?

Do you seek joy? Who will rejoice outside of Me?

Do you seek comfort in misery? Who will comfort you outside of Me?

Do you seek peace? I am the peace of the soul.

Do you seek life? In Me is the source of life.

Do you seek light? 'I am the Light of the world' " (St. John 8:12).

O Holy Martyr Marina, pray unto God for us! 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Prayers of Parents (Revisited)*

There is a lot of advice floating around out there for mothers. Much of it is good and there is great support and encouragement to be found by talking to other mothers about the struggles and the joys of raising children.

But while there is often a lot said about specific tips and tricks of the trade when it comes to raising children, there is also something that often (although not always) gets left unsaid as we try to figure out how to be the best mothers we can be. In fact, I would argue that this mostly unspoken piece of advice really ought to be the number one priority for every parent in all places and at all times.

We need to pray for our children.

We must pray fervently and continually and we must never forget that this is the best thing we can ever do for these souls which have been entrusted to our care.

There is a line in the Orthodox wedding service that says

"The prayers of parents make firm the foundations of houses."

In other words, a parents prayers are VERY powerful, and it's our job to see that we make firm foundations for the houses of our children. Of course those foundations must be laid by building good habits and by teaching our children right from wrong, but it is telling here that the line above says that the parents' prayers are what make those foundations firm.

It's very easy to start parenting from fear because we don't see immediate results. When I see my children tell a lie, or purposely hurt one another I get nervous downright scared because I fear that the things they do now will affect them for the rest of their lives. And indeed the importance of early childhood and its effects on the adult have been stressed over and over again.

But when I let that fear take hold and let it drive me to try this or that new method or discipline, frantically switching from one to another, searching for that magic "cure" for bad behavior, what is really happening is that I am trying to take matters into my own hands and leave God out of it. I try to do things my way because I want to be in control.

But prayer for my children implies a leaning on God and not on my own power to try and build those foundations myself. I have been given these children, but they are not mine, they are His. And He loves them and wants their salvation infinitely more that I ever could.

When I pray for my children I am allowing God to work in my own heart as well as in the hearts of my children. I am covering them with grace by the very act of bringing them before Christ so that He can do what I cannot. The following words from St. Porphyrios describe the effects beautifully:

Prayer for others which is made gently and with deep love is selfless and has great spiritual benefit. It brings grace to the person who prays and also to the person for whom he is praying. When you have great love and this loves moves you to prayer, then the waves of love are transmitted and affect the person for whom you are praying and you create around him a shield of protection and you influence him, you lead him towards what is good. When He sees your efforts, God bestows His grace abundantly on both you and on the person you are praying for. 
Prefer prayer and speak to [your children] through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts. 
Say, " Lord Jesus Christ, give Your light to my children. I entrust them to You. You gave them to me, but I am weak and unable to guide them, so, please, illuminate them."
One way is the perfect way - for the mother's and father's holiness and love in Christ to speak. The radiance of sanctity and not human effort makes for good children.  
 St. Porphyrios in Wounded by Love 

 *The title of this post comes from an earlier post I wrote about the prayers of my own parents and their effects on my life.