I live like a crazy person. Most of the time I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. Sometimes, I get to a place, a meeting, an appointment and can’t remember why I’m there. Maybe this sounds familiar. On top of it all, the Advent Fast starts today. That means the holidays are upon us. Good Lord! I can’t keep up with my day to day most of the time as it is. So, adding another layer of obligations and stress to my life makes me feel sick to my stomach. (I have ulcers) It’s not that I don’t love the holidays, (I do) I just don’t love what they have become. I want things to be special. I just don’t have time or energy to make them special. There is not enough of me left for that. I also have to fight the other people in my life who share my problem. It’s one thing to deal with my own overworked, overscheduled, overspent, and overstretched, multitasking self, but it’s a problem of a wholly different magnitude to try and forcibly coordinate an entire family of people just like me into a unified effort for the fast and feast. No one willingly joins my effort. They have no time, no energy, no flexibility in their busy schedules for this either. There are arguments. Fits are thrown and there are endless frustrations. We are all doing our best to keep up with what we all need to do to meet our obligations and responsibilities. It’s enough to make me want to give up on the whole idea of trying to live according to the fasting and festal teachings of the Church. Add to this the fact that the Orthodox Church beckons my family to conform to a calendar diametrically opposed to what the rest of the world is planning. “What do you mean we can’t have a Christmas party before Christmas? Do you want us to be freaks? I’m so sick of being weird!” Eye roll, foot stomp, arms crossed…there go my ulcers again. Family and friends are so much fun.
If you’re anything like me, you may have even forgotten that the Nativity Fast starts today or if you did remember, you’re groaning and rubbing your temples from stress thinking, “Here we go again.” You’re tempted just to give up on the whole idea. Why let this “ruin” the holidays. Why fight with your kids, with your teenagers, with your spouse? This whole “keeping the fast” thing just doesn’t fit the way we live today. So, obviously, the fast is the problem…right? We just can’t live this way. We are 100% right to feel this way. Of course we can’t. The problem is that we often can’t see (or won’t admit) that it is our day to day lives that are the problem. We are living wrong. We may not believe it. We may not want to hear it. We may not admit it. However, if the “one more thing” we refuse to add to the To Do List is obedience to Christ, then I have bigger problems than I realize.
The gift that Advent brings is that it reveals to me what’s wrong with the way I’m living my day to day existence, setting my schedule, running my household and spending my money.
Am I seriously planning to go into credit card debt to finance my holiday plans? After all, I’ll spoil Christmas and destroy my children if they don’t get what they are expecting under the tree. Santa has to come. My teen’s life will be over if they don’t get the latest $1,000 IPhone with an unrestricted, unlimited data plan. I’m a father and provider. I’m supposed to deliver these goods as promised, right?
If I don’t teach my kids to fast when they are young and I control what groceries I buy and what food they get, God help me when they become teenagers. Food isn’t that big of a thing compared to behavior, language, morals, manners, etc. How can I expect to win the big battles if I can’t enforce what they are going to have for dinner? If my kids not under control and disciplined at 5 why would I think that’s suddenly going to improve at 15 or 20 or 30? If I can’t get my spouse to put down their cell phone for church and be truly present with the Lord, how can I ever expect them to give me their whole heart and attention to me for a date night or anything else? (How am I supposed to compete with ESPN, Snapchat, IFunny and Fox News?) The undisciplined, chaotic, way we live is killing our relationships and none more so than our relationship with God. We simply have no time for Him or for anyone else. When I fall into this way of living, I have literally “put other gods before Him.” I worship these “gods” every time I bow my head to receive the latest snap, tweet, text or pic. (And I’m not even going into the porn, gambling, music, movies and every other wickedness that the pocket idol brings to the world 24/7. Will heaven have good Wi Fi?) Every time I freely choose to sit down to a plate of non-fasting food during the fast, I am quite literally choosing disobedience and teaching my family round the table to do likewise. I don’t know if there was ever a golden cheeseburger idol like the Israelites’ golden calf but I do know there are temples to gluttony with Golden Arches in every city of the land and nothing good awaits my family inside those doors during a fast.
Am I working so much that I am so tired that I can’t get myself out of bed on time come Sunday Morning to make it to church until after the Gospel? Do I skip Lenten Services and feast days? My kids look at me and the look on their faces says, “Message received Dad. Church ain’t that important.” That’s on Sunday. From Monday onward…Kyrie Eleision. (Lord have Mercy)
This all hits so close to home. I didn’t want any of this; not for myself and not for my family. I’m just as broken and dysfunctional as the rest of you. Forgive me.
So now I feel both guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are both forms of pain. My pain is not the problem. Pain tells me something is wrong. Pain motivates me to deal with my problem. I don’t want to manage my pain; I want to cure my disease. The limb that can no longer feel pain is dead. Same with a heart, a mind, a soul. God help us if we ever get to the point when we no longer feel pain for the sins we commit. To knowingly sin and feel no guilt or shame is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: the unforgivable sin. If there is no pain, there is no repentance and without repentance there cannot be forgiveness. Pain can be a brutal blessing. Maybe it’s just the thing I need. This year I’m going to give myself a gift.
There is no room in my day to day life for Christmas so I’m gonna do less day to day. I’m gonna admit that there is not enough of me to go around. So I’m gonna do less. I’m gonna choose less work, less socializing, less school, less sports, fewer friends, fewer movies, less music, less time for video games, less food, less sin, fewer arguments with others, less fighting, less winning (that’s right, I’m gonna lose on purpose so I can let others win for a change) less money, less spending, fewer commitments, and finally stop making promises to do more and better. I’ll be less productive, less involved, less relevant, less important, and less networked. There will be less of everything in my day to day until there is finally room in my life for God. If that means I have to drop out of life as I know it, I have a life problem not a God problem. Maybe, just maybe, if I let these other things wither and die, I’ll finally make some room for Christmas and (God willing) for Christ. Maybe, if there is less of me in my life, there will be time and energy for quiet, for prayer, for church, and for relationships that actually matter. It’s time to get small, to get still, to get quiet and to be happy, truly happy with less. After all isn’t that what fast is all about?