Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to about and to suffer need.
Good morning Prayer Team!
No life is perfect. No life is without its challenges. No life is without its moments when you think you can’t go on another day, or another step, or endure another trial. We all have had moments when we’ve been pushed almost to our breaking point. The good news is that is you are reading this message today, you haven’t been broken. You are still in there fighting.
Allow me to share a story that is deeply personal today. When I was a child, I was not particularly good at sports. I would say, average at best. I was a good student, not particularly popular though. I didn’t like how I looked, my cleft lip and palate were a challenge. I wasn’t very good at soccer but it was a great way to let out frustration. I didn’t make the varsity team until senior season of high school. I finally got my letter jacket but never found a girl to wear it. Along the way, I hurt my elbow pretty bad, but kept on playing, so obsessed was I to get that jacket and the “fame” I thought would come along with it. I even was fortunate to play soccer on my college varsity team as a freshman. I was going to be a two-sport “athlete” my sophomore year-I was going to try soccer and punting on the football team (I went to a division III school). And one day on August of 1991, the world came crashing down on me. I had no feeling in my right arm, the elbow injury had caught up to me. I went to the doctor, there were no nerve impulses. I needed ulnar collateral surgery, except it wasn’t to preserve an athletic career, it was merely so I could drive and use my arm for normal activities. Sports would be off the table for good. I had surgery a couple of days later. I won’t share what my thoughts were going into the surgery but suffice to say, they weren’t very good ones. Definitely a low moment in my life.
Coming away from the surgery, I finally sat down with my priest, had my first real confession, sought some help at 19 that I should have sought at 13. And the reason I am sharing this story with you is because among the things my priest shared with me were a book, and a piece of advice. The book is called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner. The book is about how and why God still loves us, even when bad things are happening to us. Even though the book is written by a Jewish Rabbi, it has many ideas that are in line with Orthodox theology. That book changed my perspective on a lot of things in life. I highly recommend reading it. It you substitute Jesus Christ for the last ten pages of the book, you have a good, Christian ending. But what I took away from that conversation more than just a good book, was a good piece of advice. My priest said to me, “Here’s some life advice: Stop being a victim, start being a survivor. God doesn’t want victims, He wants survivors.” As I tried to put that advice into practice, it changed my whole demeanor about life. I went from “Woe is me” to “I can survive.”
So, if you are “abounding” today, be thankful to God. And if you are “abased” then ask God for the strength to be a survivor. But go to God always, in good times and in bad ones. And be a survivor! I’m still learning how to be a survivor, to embrace challenges, to not give up, or give in to despair. Some days I still do. But then I’m reminded of the words of my priest so many years ago-stop being a victim, and be a survivor. And how it is that we survive? Well, tune in for tomorrow’s verse, which is one of the most powerful verses of the entire Bible, and the ultimate mantra for the Christian life. . .
Heavenly Father, thank You for the many gifts You have bestowed upon me. Help me in my moment of doubt and despair to be a survivor, not a victim. Guide me, strengthen me and comfort me, so that I not only survive, but learn to thrive in whatever challenge I am confronted with. Help me to see good and God in all things, even in difficult ones. Help me meet the challenges of today! Amen.
Have a great day!
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