When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
I Corinthians 13: 11-12
Early in this unit, I addressed the subject of change, and how change is part of life. Today I want to speak about how our views and approach to Christianity change as we age, again, based on a question I received on this topic.
There is a saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” For those unfamiliar with this phrase, a foxhole is a military term that describes the place where soldiers hunker down when they are under attack. When the missiles and bombs are flying all around and everyone’s life is in grave danger, so the saying goes, even the most non-religious of people start appealing to God or some “higher power” out of fear.
We are all going to be in a foxhole one day. We will all be on death’s door. Some of us will not see it coming—we will die suddenly, whether by illness or accident. And some of us will see it coming—we will have a long term illness and we will know we are coming to the end. I’m 50 years old at the moment. I don’t think about this often, though I do think about it more often than I used to. I’m keenly aware that there is more of my life in the rearview mirror than over the horizon. Both my parents passed when they were 78. If I follow suit, then I’m almost 2/3 of the way through my life. Only God knows that. I sat with a group of young adults recently, and realized that based on their life expectancy, they are still climbing up the mountain of their lifespan, while I am definitely on the downside. Perhaps they give NO thought to what’s coming. As for me, I’m so busy just trying to get through the day, that I don’t give the end much thought. Anyway, there is going to be an end for all of us.
When we were children (and while I don’t remember my very young childhood, but as a father, I watched a son go through his), we took direction from our parents as far as what God and religion is all about. We taught our son that God is good, and God loves him. When he learned the days of the week, he used to say “Friday, Saturday, Church day, Monday.” For a very young child, he knew Sunday was the day we go to church. We didn’t go through the fine points of why we receive Communion—he just received it. We didn’t teach him the meaning of the Liturgy, he just went to it. He knew that icons are pictures but didn’t know the story behind the saints depicted on them.
There is a necessary change as we get older. We can’t go through life with only the knowledge of a child when it comes to spirituality and to God. Why? Because that’s not enough to keep us interested. No professional adult is going to go to church to stare at pictures on the wall. “God is great” is not very profound.
Hopefully as we age, there is a desire to change on many fronts. In years past, we didn’t have the technology we have now. We didn’t have the understanding of ourselves we have now. We didn’t have an understanding of relationships as we have now. Think teenage crush versus a deep and lasting marriage. Imagine if we just had a “crush” on God and never went for the deep and lasting relationship.
Lots of times, we put pressure on ourselves, thinking we should have learned such-and-such, or accomplished such-and-such by this time. Rather than regret what we haven’t accomplished, we should look ahead a year or five or ten and figure out what we want to accomplish. This is true professionally as well as spiritually.
If you’re middle-aged, like I am, and have never read the Bible, pick it up and start reading. See if you can get through the whole Bible in the next 2-3 years (that’s a very reasonable goal by the way). You can spend 10 minutes a day and read it in a year. Five minutes a day or ten minutes a day reading footnotes should easily get you there in two years. If you’ve never been to confession, go this spring. Every year I get middle-aged people who come for confession for the first time, and right after, each says, “I can’t believe I waited so long to do that. I wish I had done that a lot sooner.”
One day we are going to be in the foxhole and do we want to feel confidence in the strength of our faith or desperation? Because it will be one of the two. There are two reasons not to wait that long to grow in our faith. The first is that death might come suddenly, we might not have warning, we might not have time to get things in order before we stand before the awesome judgment seat of Christ. The second, and more important, is why put off the joys of living in Christ until the end, when we could be living in them right now? Not sure what there is to be joyful about? Start praying, read the Bible, go to church, do these consistently, and you’ll find that joy.
Growing in our understanding is a good thing. Learning the times tables in math was tedious, but today, I used that to solve real life problems that come up. I’m so glad I learned them. I’m so glad I now understand why I learned them. It’s the same thing learning about God. What starts out as seemingly useless trivia, becomes tools that help us live a Christ-centered life. We have to start off with at least some information, but our journey can’t stop with just information gathering. It starts with information, which becomes application, which leads to salvation. And that’s the process of how we change in our faith as we grow older.
Lord, thank You for the gift of this day. Each day I have is truly a gift. Help me to see it that way. As I grow older and as I work to change my understanding of so many things in my life, guide my heart and my mind to desire a greater understanding of You. So that I can make a greater service to You and to others in my life. So that my life, when it ends, will lead to eternal life. Bless me in my journey today. May I glorify You in all things. Amen.
Information leads to application which leads to salvation. Which is why we shouldn’t wait to be in the foxhole to think about these things!
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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