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
Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Psalm 50:6
Today’s verse focuses on the phrase, “my secret heart.” Everyone has a secret heart, a place where they keep their deepest secrets, things like feelings that are too ugly to share with others, shame that is too embarrassing to even say out loud, even to ourselves.
Let’s go back to the story of King David, which we discussed in yesterday’s reflection. He had, in a sense, committed the perfect crime. For him to order someone to the front line of battle was not something unthinkable. For that man to die in battle was also not unthinkable. For David to console the grieving widow was not unthinkable. And for that consoling to go beyond that was also not unthinkable. Only David could put the whole story together, and when he finally admitted that to himself, it caused him personal pain and private shame. It tore up his secret heart.
Where was David going to unburden his secret heart? It wasn’t going to be publicly, in front of his people, or even privately in front of his subjects. No, this shame and pain was too embarrassing to take anywhere. Thus, he took the pain to God and asked for wisdom in his secret heart.
If we are honest, we can all relate to King David, in having feelings that are too painful and shameful to let anyone else in on. I have heard some of these pains in confession, things that people have shared with me that they say “no one else knows,” not their spouse, or their parents, or their closest friends, nobody. My Spiritual Father, when he hears confessions (during the time when people are making their confession), always has his eyes closed, and I have adopted the same practice. Because many times in confession, people unburden their secret hearts of their pains and I know that it is embarrassing, so I do not want to watch the unburdening of pain or shame. Thankfully, we have this sacrament where we can be unburdened of the weight of our secret hearts. And God can wipe out our secret guilt in this beautiful sacrament.
However, many of the struggles of the secret heart are habitual, they are not wiped out in one confession and then never done again. And many of the pains in the secret heart are not sinful, they might not even make their way to confession. Some of these pains include deep seeded doubts, anxieties and insecurities. Many people struggle with low self-esteem. Some people have low self-esteem all the time. Many people are paralyzed with fear and anxiety. Many people feel stuck, some think that there won’t be a better tomorrow.
The 50th Psalm should be prayed often for many reasons, one of which is to address the secret heart that weighs so many of us down. Several times in the New Testament, we read “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26; said is a similar way in Mark 10:27, Luke 18:27) It seems impossible for the pains of the secret heart to be comforted. However, what seems impossible with us is possible with God. The pain of the secret heart is comforted with the wisdom that comes from God. The pain of the secret heart is part of the fallen world, and the will be a pain that each of us carries as long as we live in the fallen world. This is yet another reason why prayer is so important, because in prayer, we can pour out to God the feelings of our secret hearts without shame or embarrassment, and we can receive the comfort that no one else can give to us.
Each time I pour out my secret heart to God, I feel both comforted and emboldened with confidence that I can keep going. As you know, one of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” (NKJV) And one of the many things we can do, and can only do through Christ, is carry the burdens of a secret heart without shame and with some degree of confidence.
I encourage you to share the pains of your secret heart with a spiritual father who you trust in the sacrament of confession. So that you can hear from another human being that you can depart in peace and without shame. I also encourage you to find a trusted counselor or priest and seek help for the pains of your secret heart. Because these pains, left untended, can lead us to despondency and despair. But relieved of these pains, it’s like a giant weight lifted, and we can live life more fully. Regardless if you struggle privately, or have reached out for help, I encourage you to pray Psalm 50, and continually ask God for wisdom in your secret heart.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundance mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless in Your judgment. For behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear the sounds of joy and feasting, the bones that were afflicted shall rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I shall teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance. O Lord, You shall open my lips and my mouths shall show forth Your praise. For You have no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart, o God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt. Then You will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then they shall offer up bulls on Your altar [and have mercy on me O God]. Psalm 50 (51)
May our secret hearts be filled with God’s love, light, encouragement, forgiveness and wisdom.
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.
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.