God is gracious to us and blesses us. The light of God’s countenance shines upon us, and He gives us His peace.
I find myself so incredibly thankful for the past several months that God has granted me. God is so good to us and so often provides for us in ways that we neither foresee or even hope for. And during the past few months God has given me a something that I even find hard to describe… probably the closest I can come is to say that God has granted me “rest of soul”.
I have been able to take a lot of much-needed time off this spring: time for travel, time for spiritual retreat, time even for visiting home during Holy Week. And by God’s grace in the form of a very good friend who entirely took over the work of the home building program for several months, I have had the immense relief of being nothing but a nurse and a young gal in SoCal who happens to go to church at an orphanage. My thoughts at this point, after several months of stepping back and in a certain sense “hiding”, are tumbling around mostly regarding different types of struggle.
It is so easy for me to toss all of my little and varied struggles into one big basket. I take a struggle with everyday fatigue and starting there I throw it in; then I take a difficult moment with a co-worker or friend and I put it in too; I reflect on a struggle with a certain sin or repetitive bad habit and I toss it on top; I have a little list of struggles with my work and I make sure that they, too, often most of all, are counted in the basket. And since in my particular situation I mostly find myself living within my work environment, and also since my work environment has as its mission the bearing of Christian fruit, at the end of many days I have this strange basket in which I have collected a rather strange and blurred mix of “all my struggle”. And it is so easy for me to view this entire jumbled basket as “my struggle for life in Christ”.
But in the past few months I have had the vast majority of what one might term “missionary struggle” removed from the equation. Instead, I have been given Christian struggle in the more traditional and unadulterated sense- here is prayer, here is fasting, here is almsgiving. Take up your cross, that you might see Christ say “Here am I.”
And it is within this context that I have been blessed with this certain “rest of soul”. I have been given this period of relief from the everyday struggles of “ministry” and instead been allowed a pure focus on my personal following of Christ. And when there is no job description hanging over me requiring the bearing of Christian fruit, then quite suddenly I can sit before the icon of Christ and there is no struggle except that which He is giving me. There is nothing but my labor of love and my labor of worship and the open arms of prayer. And there is such rest to be found in that undistracted relationship. Elder Aimilianos expresses this quite well: “That’s the way it is: The soul which takes thought for itself discovers that it loves repose. And it finds such repose in communicating with Him Whom it seeks, Whom it wants to discover, that is, with God.”
Struggle in the interior life- without anything else thrown into the basket. It is easy to forget that work is work when we acknowledge that it is holy work. But it is just that- it is the work which God has given us. And our life in Him is another plane of reality entirely (and this plane of reality may permeate the whole universe when we are immersed in it, but that is another point completely). Our life in God has not much to do with work and everything to do with relationship- that’s what I’m getting at. I am reminded as well of this quote from the same source, “You can’t seek Christ and at the same time be seeking something else. It doesn’t work that way, even if what you’re seeking is something holy.”
Work here is certainly Christian and it is certainly holy work. But struggle in my work, even when it is good work, is by no means The Struggle. Struggles in living and working at an orphanage may certainly be very real, but they belong in fact to a lesser arena that could more appropriately and simply be titled “problems at work”. God watches over this work (it is, after all, His work), and He knows exactly the problems and struggles of it. We pray fervently for those hardships and challenges, that He in His love might care for them and that He in His abundance might provide. It may be that these struggles show me where I fall short in my love for God, and certainly these struggles might reveal to me some of my sins. But whatever the “problem at work” might be, it still belongs to that other arena. It might reflect something about my interior life, but it doesn’t define it.
It is this focus on interior presence, this participation in the life of the Church and in the sacraments, this walk in repentance and in our soul’s discovering of God, which really takes center stage. To quote Hieromonk Irinei, “At the foundation of our missionary work in the world is the missionary work that must take place in our own heart… Missionary work begins in the Holy Mysteries, in confession and the communion in the holy Body and Blood of Christ… It begins with an epitrachilion laid across our head, our heart laid open by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the sins which bind us to death and darkness defeated by the power of God.” And it is exactly this perspective which allows my soul such repose, such peace, such rest. It gives such clarity to my habit of life here and freedom from its weight.
I am so thankful for these past few months and in them the perspective which God has granted me. It is with gratitude that I am now beginning this summer of home building this week, and it is with joy that I behold the work which God has placed before us. I feel like an entirely new person who is just beginning to experience everything afresh. It reminds me of the verse from second Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”