And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8
I wrote a lengthy reflection on my time at summer camp last month which I’ve shared with my parish as a long article in the monthly bulletin. For this week, I’m going to share it with you in five parts. Today is part two.
We’ve lost the concept of always blessed because we live in a world of It’s Not Enough. We never seem to have enough. We have lost the concept of being content. And what has that cost us? It has cost us the concept of intimacy. And what is intimacy? A complete acceptance of someone by someone. Let’s unpack this:
Intimacy is a complete acceptance of someone by someone. Sex is an expression of intimacy, but there are many intimate things that are non-sexual. And sadly, our over-sexualized world has removed intimacy from sex as well. Because sadly in so many instances, sex is meaningless. Outside of marriage it is against God’s law. Outside of a meaningful relationship, it is not only a sin against God but a sin against our own humanity. There’s one big mistake. We’ve lost the ability to have intimate non-sexual feelings. Where there is intimacy, there is no agenda. Think about life, there always seems to be an agenda.
When we post something on social media and we wait for the “likes” to come, we are hoping for more and more and more. More than everyone else. More than last time. We can’t wait to post again to get our more likes again. It’s like an addiction. Some people are addicted to alcohol or drugs or pornography. And now even more people are addicted to being liked, our appetite for this has become insatiable in many instances, which is why intimacy is getting pushed away. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be content. In the end, all the likes in the world won’t satisfy us. This state of always wanting for more (whether it is from our spouse, our kids, our friends, our circumstances, our presence on social media and even from God Himself) makes us anxious, depressed, and isolated. And most of us feel this way, a lot of the time. What we are doing isn’t bringing us closer to one another. Or to God. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We’ve never lived more public lives because of social media, and we’ve never felt more isolated because of it.
Imagine a relationship with someone else where there is no agenda. Okay, maybe that’s not possible. There is always some agenda. Even in marriages, there is an agenda to get things done. In parenting, we set goals for our children. But imagine, at moments in a relationship, that there is no agenda. Where people just are, where they just enjoy each other’s company, where there is no judgment, no self-promotion, where it is safe and expected to be honest without fear of reprisal. Imagine that. That is what intimacy is. And that only happens when we have a concept of “it is enough” with someone else, even if it is in brief moments. Many of us don’t have this, even for brief moments, in our lives, with other people, or with the Lord.
The Common Denominator of the Most Beautiful Moments
My most beautiful moments with other people are when there is no agenda. When there is laughter, encouragement, or just friendly banter. Yes, there is an agenda with everyone—there wouldn’t be a meaningful relationship if there was never an agenda. But there can’t always be an agenda, or there won’t be a meaningful relationship either.
Same thing goes with the Lord. The ideal relationship with the Lord is an intimate one, where there is no agenda. When prayer becomes a time to just be with God, rather than a time to ask Him for a bunch of things. Where worship is standing in the presence of God, together with others, and just enjoying praising Him, rather than just a box we check off.
The Intimacy of Worship
I was speaking recently to someone who is in a sorority in college. I was not part of Greek life in college but I know a lot about it from people who are in it who have spoken to me over the years about it. Every fraternity and sorority has a weekly gathering where they come together, express some beliefs and rituals unique to their organization. The purpose of this is to reaffirm their identity and celebrate their identity. These weekly gatherings are something that members look forward to.
Worship works kind of in the same way. We have a weekly gathering-it is called the Divine Liturgy. It has rituals that we are very familiar with, that are unique to our identity as Orthodox Christians. A by-product of worship is that it reaffirms and celebrates our identity, but it does more than that. It brings us into closer alignment with the Lord, it allows us to touch the Lord, it allows us an intimate encounter with the Lord, where there is no agenda, where it is just Him and us—whether we’ve had a good week or a bad week, whether our faith is strong or weak, whether we’ve prayed or we haven’t, Holy Communion is presented and received in the same way by every person. There is a chance for an intimate moment with the Lord every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. He doesn’t come to the Divine Liturgy with an agenda, so why do we? He doesn’t tire of us, so why do we seem to tire of Him (and complain that the service is so long or it’s the same and the same each week)? I’ve never heard someone in college complain about weekly chapter meetings—there is some comfort in ritual, in fact there is an innate desire for ritual because it brings structure, and that is a nice juxtaposition to the chaos all around us. To be intimate is to put aside all agendas and just be. If you have never done that in worship, maybe that’s why you aren’t getting out of it what you could be getting out of it. Maybe that’s why it’s boring. Come with nothing—no agenda, no watch, no expectation, no demand, and just be with God. I’m positive that will change your experience of worship, because intimacy is very needed, and intimacy is found when we empty ourselves and accept fullness that comes from outside of us.
We Will Never Feel Blessed if We Never Feel Content
We can’t feel always blessed if we are never content. We can’t feel always blessed if we are always looking for more. There is nothing wrong with wanting things. Setting and achieving goals are important parts of a fulfilling life. Just sitting down to write this article is a goal, there is an agenda as to when I’m going to write it, how long it’s going to be, etc. Having no goals and no agenda doesn’t work. It’s like the guy in Matthew 25: 14-30 in the parable of the talents, who received one talent, hid it in the ground and did nothing with it. God was mad at that man and punished him. Yet at the same time as there is an agenda to use the things God has given us, there is also a call to feel content, and that is achieved not on our own but through Christ. In Philippians 4:11, St. Paul writes, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.” Why and how is this possible? He answers it in Philippians 4:13, when he writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Always blessed is an ideal. Just like intimacy is the pinnacle of any relationship, including our relationship with Christ. There are many steps to reach this. Before we can take any steps, however, there has to be an understanding of what the goal is, and a desire to get there.
Lord, before I can thank You for anything, I must ask You for help in just being thankful. Help me to be a grateful person, to have a heart that is content, that takes joy even from the smallest of blessings. This is my simple request today—help me to be more grateful for the blessings I have, to recognize the blessings I have, and to realize in all the people and in all the situations I find myself in today, the blessings, rather than the challenges and the negatives. Amen.
Bring optimism into every situation you find yourself in today.