More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hopes does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
There are things in all of our lives that are not perfect, things we wish we could change. Many of those things are things we can change. If one is not a good public speaker, there are classes one can take to improve, and experience will generally help one improve in this area and many others.
There are some things in this world that each of us will not be good at, and that’s okay. We don’t have to be good at everything. I was a terrible student when it came to science. And while I struggled with that in my life as a high school student, it’s not something that really matters in the big picture of my life, because I earn a living doing something that isn’t science. I was never very good at sports, so I didn’t up as a professional athlete either. Even for those who excel in sports, most will not earn a living playing a sport.
Then there are the things that each of us will struggle with that do make life a challenge. These are the physical and mental challenges that we mentioned in the last reflection. Some of these can be conquered. As an example, it is possible for a person who struggles with being overweight to lose weight in a sensible way.
There are certain things, however, that we cannot conquer. And the operative word for these things is “management.” We have to learn to “manage” some of our challenges.
Allow me to speak personally for a moment. I was born with a cleft lip and palate. I didn’t choose to be born with these things. They just happened. I have had multiple surgeries to try to correct the issues that these things bring into a person’s life and they have been effective, but only to a certain point. There are some residual issues that cannot be corrected. So, they have to be managed. I get a lot of mucus discharge from my nose. Therefore, it is necessary to carry Kleenex with me at all times because after eating or after talking or singing for a while, I have to blow my nose. I’ve even built in a few seconds in the middle of our Sunday service to step away from the altar just to blow my nose. Because there is a hole in the roof of my mouth, things can sometimes go through it and come out my nose. So, when eating ice cream, I have learned to flip the spoon over so the spoon is against the roof of my mouth so no ice cream can go up there. I can’t amass any air pressure in my mouth, so blowing up balloons is impossible. So, when balloons need to be blown up, I make sure someone else can do that for me. I’ve had to wear expensive orthodontic apparatus in my mouth for virtually my entire life, so I’ve managed to make it without chewing gum or hard candy. And for nearly 30 years, I had to wear a steel plate over my palate, which prohibited me from eating or drinking anything that is too hot, so I learned to eat things lukewarm. When I don’t drink enough water, mucus will get stuck in my throat and I will cough or choke until it somehow gets out. And some people comment that it always sounds like I’m sick or have a cold, and that is not the case, it’s just part of the cleft palate. When I was a teenager, people made fun of how I looked and that was devastating, but thankfully, in adult like, very few people make comments about that. I had to do speech therapy until the end of seventh grade, and many people commented to me in those early years that I would have no future in public speaking. Thankfully, I didn’t listen to them. As challenges go, I’ll take a cleft lip and palate over other physical maladies.
The operative word in some struggles is “management.” If we can’t conquer something, we have to learn to manage it. And if someone has an issue they can’t fix, then we’ve all got to learn not only how to accept it, but to embrace it. When we “accept” people for who they are, that sounds like a negative, i.e. “I’ll accept you, despite your shortcomings.” It would be better to embrace people for who they are. I didn’t choose my physical and neurological challenges—they are part of who I am. Others have their own challenges—they are part of who they are. A person can’t control if he or she is autistic, or has a developmental delay, or a learning disability, a stuttering problem, social awkwardness, or two left feet. If we embrace people for who they are, we will quickly discover their strengths and gifts, since we all have many of each. I have a cleft palate. It is part of who I am. I can’t conquer it. I can only manage it. And I manage it, so it doesn’t manage me. If someone is going to embrace me, they are going to have to embrace those things because they are part of me. I hope that when people see me, they see my gifts and talents, not the things I struggle with. As we look at others, may we do the same.
Saint Paul had it right in Romans 5:3-5. I used to not like these verses. I heard too much of “suffering build character” when I was younger. Suffering doesn’t produce character though. It produces endurance, as St. Paul so correctly writes. (Patience is another word that can be inserted here). Endurance and patience are the things that produce character. Character produces hope. And keeping our hope on God may occasionally disappoint us (as God occasionally disappoints us) but over the long haul, hope in God will not disappoint us.
Today’s prayer is the well-known Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. Most people know the first three lines. However, most are unfamiliar with the rest of the prayer. It is printed in its entirely as today’s prayer. Indeed, it reminds us that there are certain things about ourselves we will never change. Is takes serenity to accept the things we cannot change. It takes management of them as well.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Learn to manage the things you cannot change. Encourage others to do the same. Learn to love people as they are for who they are, including the things about them that they cannot change.
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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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