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
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:9-10
I said “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I bridle my mouth, so long as the wicked are in my presence.” I was dumb and silent, I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse and my heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is! Behold, Thou hast made my days a few handbreaths, and my lifetime is as nothing in Thy sight. Surely every man stands as a mere breath! Surely man goes about as a shadow! Surely for naught are they in turmoil; man heaps up, and knows not who will gather! And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in Thee. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Make me not the scorn of the fool! I am dumb, I do not open my mouth; for it is Thou who has done it. Remove Thy stroke from me; I am spent by the blows of Thy hand. When Thou dost chasten men with rebukes for sin, Thou dost consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely every man is a mere breath. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not Thy peace at my tears! For I am Thy passing guest, a sojourner, like all my fathers. Look away from me, that I may know gladness, before I depart and be no more! Psalm 39
As a society, we tend to categorize and differentiate between struggles that are socially acceptable to discuss and those that aren’t. Unfortunately, we know statistically that many people struggle with things that are seemingly unacceptable to discuss—pornography, infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation, and abortion, to name a few. It’s not only these “bad” things that are kept in dark corners. There are things where there is no blame to be cast where people still think they have to suffer in silence—A miscarriage is the first thing that comes to mind. A surprising number of women have had them. Surprisingly few are able to talk about them. Menopause, intimacy problems, depression, anxiety, learning disabilities and other things are other issues that many people struggle with that also stay hidden. Because we don’t talk about these things, it is easy to pretend they don’t exist and the cycle of avoidance and inauthenticity continues.
I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has something they struggle with. And that something might be a temporary something, and for some, their something is a permanent struggle. I’ve also come to the conclusion that when we suffer in silence, our suffering is exacerbated, because in addition to the actual circumstance from which we suffer, we add loneliness and isolation to it. When we enjoin others in the struggle, we benefit from encouragement, advice and sometimes even useful help in managing or conquering our challenge.
Stoicism is viewed as a virtue by some. Some people will say it’s not okay to cry or show weakness and will look down on those who do. It is interesting to note that even Christ cried, on two occasions. When His friend Lazarus died, Jesus went to the tomb and He wept there for His friend. Those tears were genuine sorrow over a friend who had died. Jesus didn’t act stoic. He didn’t say “well, easy come, easy go.” He genuinely mourned a friend whose life really mattered to Him.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before His crucifixion, again Jesus cried, and this time He was meditating on His own death and it scared Him. It made Him sorrowful. He took three disciples—Peter, James and John—and He asked them to “watch” with Him. He didn’t ask them to actually “do” anything, just to watch Him while He prayed, so that He would know that He was not alone. Of course, we know that they fell asleep. Watching proved to be difficult.
But there is a lesson here—If Jesus asked friends to “watch” with Him, why are we not doing the same? Why do we suffer in silence? We should ask trusted friends to help us, and if they are not able to help us, then at least “watch” with us, validate us, encourage us, and help us know that we are not alone in our struggles. Today’s advice in building authentic relationships is to make a decision to not suffer in silence, and to consider asking others to help, and if not help, then to watch, to know your struggle so that they can encourage and validate, and also go to the Lord in prayer over your struggle. The second piece of advice is to tell your friends that you are there for them, that if they are ever struggling with something, you want them to bring you in, so you can “watch” with them. You can’t force anyone to lean on you, but you can create an environment in your life that will encourage those close to you to lean on you in their struggles. Create an environment where people will recognize you as a “safe” person, a person who will make it safe to confide in, who can hold a confidence and who will not judge.
Lord, thank You for Your many blessings. Help me in my struggles. Bring people into my path who will lift me up and “watch” with me, who will accept me, struggles and all. Open my eyes so that I can see others who need encouragement and someone to “watch” with them. Amen.
Offer to “watch” for your friends. Ask them to “watch” with you as well.
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