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
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Very early on in this study, we discussed I John 4:18, which says “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. Fear and love cannot co-exist. Likewise, guilt, shame, and punishment cannot co-exist with love. And they can’t co-exist with encouragement either, as encouragement is an expression of love. One cannot feel encouraged and shameful or guilty at the same time.
The movie “Mean Girls” debuted in 2004 as a film about social cliques among high school girls and how they are negatively affected by them. A sequel was made in 2011 as a TV movie. While the movie did well in the theaters, thanks to a star-studded cast, there are many girls (and boys too for that matter) who live this movie as part of their everyday life. They are either the mean girls (or boys), or the victims of the mean girls (or boys). And it doesn’t stop once high school is over. There are plenty of mean women and men, as well as victims of them, in all pockets of society.
The notion that one is not good enough does not inspire confidence. Rather it induces feelings of inadequacy, doubt, guilt, and shame. This can happen both objectively and arbitrarily, as bars are set so high that they can’t be reached. Objectively, this happens when one doesn’t measure up to an academic or professional standard. For instance, if one doesn’t attain a certain grade point average or test score, they may not get into a certain class or a certain college. While this may negatively affect a person’s confidence, the fact is that we aren’t all going to get straight A’s or get into the college of our dreams. When there are many more applicants than openings for a school or a job, some very qualified people will be disappointed. That’s life and this kind of disappointment is almost unavoidable. We will all experience it at some point.
There are arbitrary bars, however, that are set high and can’t be reached not because one doesn’t measure up to an academic or professional standard, but because he or she isn’t going to be allowed to reach the bar because of someone else’s opinion. In the case of the means girls, a clique may decide that a certain girl isn’t pretty enough or popular enough to get in. That’s arbitrary. If a college says one isn’t good enough to get in, a student can choose to work harder, improve grades and try again. If a clique says you aren’t popular enough or have the right look to be admitted, there is nothing one can do, other than look in from the outside and wonder.
What does this have to do with encouragement? When we set subjective bars that cannot be reached, or judge people with arbitrary measures, we are not being good encouragers. When we shame people because of how they look, an ability they lack, or an opinion that differs from ours, we are not being good encouragers. People who choose to be mean and strike fear in others are not going to be good encouragers. And shaming someone into doing something is not going to build their confidence. Rather, it will foster doubt and even resentment.
In seeking to abstain from evil, one great place to start is to not use shame as a motivator. Another place is to set bars that people have a chance of meeting.
The Prophet Isaiah wrote about the exile of the children of Israel, foreshadowing a time when they would be taken from their land and held in Babylon. This would be a time of great shame for them, as well as fear and oppression. Isaiah foretold that eventually they would return to their homeland, and their shame and dishonor would be replaced by a double portion of blessings and an everlasting joy.
In many ways, we can relate to the people of Isaiah’s time. We feel shame and dishonor, we feel trapped, we can’t seem to find sustained joy, and we wonder if things will ever improve. This is true for many teenagers, college students, adults, spouses, parents, and seniors. Lack of friends, lack of money, lack of health, lack of confidence, bad choices and other deficits combine to make us feel this way. Some encouragement can go a long way to restoring joy and lessening shame.
Encouragement, like love, is a choice. The choice to encourage is a choice to build up someone else. The choice to shame someone, or give them a guilt-trip, or raise the bar to an arbitrary level that cannot be reached causes discouragement. If we are seeking encouragement, and learning to be good encouragers, by necessity, these are tactics we need to change. We don’t need mean girls or boys, mean men or women. The choice to encourage brings the “double portion” spoken of by Isaiah to everyone. It brings joy to the encourager and confidence to the one receiving encouragement.
Lord, thank You for the good parts of me (reflect on your talents and positive characteristics). Help me to accept who I am and rejoice for what I can do, rather than becoming discouraged by what I can’t do. Help me to be a good encourager. Help me to manage thought and actions that could bring shame to others. Help me not to pre judge people. Give others the eyes to not pre judge me. Help me to accept things I cannot change. Help me to change things that I need the change. Help me to see the good in others, and encourage others to see the good in themselves. Amen.
Work to remove guilt-tripping and shaming from your interactions with others!