When We Don't Have the Strength
A long time ago, when I was a newbie teacher at Madison Middle in West Tulsa, I had a sweet, yet blunt student, who, after looking me up and down, asked -
"Do you have a mirror?"
"Yes," I replied.
Looking me up and down again, more incredulous this time, she asked a follow up question -
"Do you look in it?"
I'm no fashionista.
Most days, I wear plain corduroys and a simple tee. My wardrobe only includes a few items, circulated continuously until (and sometimes even after) they become threadbare, at which time, they are replaced by more of the same.
There is one governing factor in the selection of my attire – comfort.
This means that on many occasions I am underdressed, a fact for which I make little to no apology.
A few years ago, however, I was contemplating the priesthood, and my then priest invited me to his home to meet our Bishop. I had been hiking earlier in the day, and much to the dismay of my host, arrived for the meeting sweaty (likely stinky), and in shorts. He was embarrassed, and for this I was sorry.
This stuck with me, and so I’ve usually tried to wear either a nice sweatshirt or a button-down shirt to church each Sunday, over my tee. To this end, I carry a button-down shirt in my wife’s car and then put it on after I’ve parked. As soon as church ends and I’m back at the car, the button-down comes off, is folded, and goes back in the trunk.
This past week, I attended a retirement party and so my button-down (I only have one or two in circulation;)) had been transferred to my car for the event. Later, on Sunday, half-way to church (a 25 minute drive) I realized that I’d never brought my button-down back to my wife’s car, the one we take to church.
To make matters worse, when I looked down at my tee, I saw a nice big juicy coffee stain right in the middle of my chest.
Later, in the pews, I wrestled with my inadequacy. Should I go for communion in a coffee-stained tee? The audacity and presumption!
Now, I don’t really think God gives a good rip about this, but others do, and part of our duty in this world is to cause as little pain to others as we are able. Also, I was embarasssed about the stain.
I didn’t want to offend, but I needed the Bread and Wine.
As I walked down the aisle, looking up at the icon of Christ on the inside of the Dome, I was reminded of the harlot washing the feet of Jesus, and the naked and beaten thief on the cross, who we remember in every communion prayer, the Samaritan woman at the well, and all of the lepers and demoniacs who ever encountered my Savior.
My former priest was in attendance, and I explained my circumstance to allay any embarrassment. He chuckled, said simply – “we are all stained.”
This past week we reached the mid-point between Pascha (Easter) and Pentecost. If you have never attended a Paschal liturgy, I think you should, that it would be a blessing. It is essential in the Orthodox Church. A marathon, it is rich with meaning.
Anyhow, I always question everything, and lately, usually (perhaps especially), I question my faith.
For brevity, I’ll just say I didn’t want to go to the Paschal service. It begins near midnight. I was tired.
Yet, while I was sitting over my sink, about to take my contacts out and go to bed, my two middle sons – Luke and Christian – rushed in, urged me to take them, plleeeeasssse!
Looking for any excuse, I asked Christian to explain why he wanted to go, thinking he just wanted a reason to avoid going to bed, and then I could go to sleep.
He said that "even though we are tired, that going would be hard - isn’t that what faith is about, believing when we don’t have the strength."
Again, he entreated me to go, and Luke joined the chorus, begging to go to church.
I was seconds from popping out those contacts, looking at myself in the mirror, wondering what kind of father suffocates the faith of his children to appease his pitiful flesh.
We went, sat in vigil at the grave of our Lord, walked about his tomb three times, chanting our sorrow and hope, and then joined the joyous threefold refrain when the stone was rolled away –
“Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”
I thanked my boys, told them that we need each other, and that on that night, I’d desperately needed them.
Sometimes even leaders - the strong or wise (or simply the poor frail folks in positions of responsibility) - need to lean down on others, like Moses, whose arms were uplifted by Aaron and Hur while the Israelites fought to survive.
We get weak, tired, and all of us are stained.
And sometimes, like the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda,
we need someone to carry us.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle