I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
Someone wrote me recently “it is easy for me to repent and get right before God. Staying clean is what I struggle with, especially sins of the flesh. Sometimes I lose track of staying focused with all the distractions of life. Life gets in the way and I lose sight of God.”
I found this note encouraging, not that a person is struggling to stay clean, but that they can still come back to God in repentance. Life is a constant struggle of falling down and getting back up again. We are all going to fall, whether we fall from different things or from the same thing. The challenge is what do we do when we fall—do we come back to God in repentance, or do we keep falling and falling and falling?
My spiritual father told me a story of someone who came to confession and who always had the same three sins to confess. They felt totally discouraged, to be back again with the same sins over and over. He said to them, in an encouraging manner, “thankfully you come with the same three sins and only three sins. There are literally thousands of possibilities when it comes to sin and you are only falling to three of them. Imagine if you came with a different three each time, or an additional three.
The spiritual life, in many ways, is like a major league baseball team. First, even the Hall of Fame caliber hitters have a 70% failure rate. That’s right, hitting .300 (30% success, 70% failure) will get you in the Hall of Fame. Hitters make the same mistakes over and over, even the best ones—they strike out, they pop the ball up, they foul out, they hit into double plays, etc.
The baseball season is 162 games long. For six months each year, the team plays almost every day. This is not a once-a-week football game, or a once every four years Olympics. Have a bad day and there is a chance the very next day for a good game. Strike out three times and then come to bat in the ninth inning with men on base, there is still a chance to be a hero. The key in baseball is to have a short memory and to keep showing up. To be able to put past failure aside, even immediate past failure, and to focus on the present opportunity. Baseball is a game of consistency—the game plays the same each time out. The challenges are predictable.
Life works in the same way. We know our bad habits. We know where our temptations are. We know where the challenges will come from most of the time. We have to think like baseball players. If we go to bed at night and it has been a bad day, we wake up to a new day, with new possibilities. If we bring a bad day into the next day, we are setting ourselves up for another bad day. Just like if a baseball player brings a bad at-bat into his next at-bat, he’s setting himself up for another bad plate appearance.
If we are failing mid-day, we have the power to turn our day around at any time, at any moment. Just like a baseball player can make a bad play and almost immediately there is a chance for redemption. The key to all of it is consistency. To be consistently focused, and to have the ability to refocus when something has not gone right.
In looking at our theme of “Where I am and where I want to be in my faith,” where we want to be is in the position of the baseball player who knows that one bad at-bat does not a season make, who knows that succeeding even thirty percent of the time will put him in the Hall of Fame, and who can focus on the present, even if the immediate past has not been good. In baseball, it is not always easy to succeed, but it’s easy to come to the plate once again, locked in and ready to give a good effort.
As many times as we fall, we need to pick up again and repent. It’s not easy to live a sinless life—in fact, it is impossible. We are going to fall. God knows that. That’s why He gives abundant mercy to us. And that’s why it’s critically important that when we’ve struck out spiritually, we get ready for the next at-bat, and step to the plate when it’s our turn, ready to try again and give a good effort.
Many people find it easy to understand what we believe and to believe what we believe. They struggle to do what we believe. If we’re honest, we all do. Remember that God focuses on effort, not necessarily success. And effort is something we can all do consistently. We aren’t going to always succeed, but we can always put in an effort. That’s what consistency is—it is not always success, but effort.
Lord, thank You for the gift of today. It’s a new day. With new possibilities. Forgive my sins from the previous day, and allow me to open my eyes to this new day with a fresh outlook on what the day might bring. Help me to be optimistic, about You, about myself, about those around me. Even when I don’t succeed, help me to get back up and go back at life with a repentant heart and a humble spirit. Amen.
Be consistent in your Christian efforts!
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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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