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
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
I’m not planning on writing on all 150 Psalms, as many of them have similar themes. As I was reading the Psalms, I came upon Psalm 73, which has as its title (the Psalmist did not write the titles, these are editor’s notes) “Please for Relief from Oppressors.” Initially I passed over it, as my thoughts about “oppressors” went to politicians and civil unrest. But as I reflected more on this Psalm, I had the thought that the number one oppressor right now is my own conscience, which is causing me to doubt, fear and lack confidence, not because I’ve done anything egregiously wrong, but because I’m not sure what the right thing is, what my goals should be, and what my next steps should be. If you feel like this, don’t worry, you are not alone.
As many of you know, I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s. Our hometown baseball team was the Los Angeles Dodgers. And one of our star players was second baseman Steve Sax. To begin with, he had a cool name. He was a great hitter, and at one point a very good defensive player. In the middle of one season, he somehow lost his ability to throw the ball from second base to first base. He made countless errors. The is a phenomenon known as “the yips,” when someone suddenly loses the ability to do a basic thing they’ve been doing their whole life. While this generally applies to sports, it seems to apply to our present situation as well.
We’re going on four months in this pandemic. We’ve had to change a lot of things about our lives as we are being necessarily careful and cautious. We are adjusting to being home more and out less. Many of us, especially children, are bored and restless. Many of us are becoming nervous and anxious and even paranoid and edgy. You can feel the collective tension building among many people. Decisions which once were easy have now suddenly become hard. Beliefs which we had so deeply are now things that we question. And where there was confidence, there is now confusion. All in the space of a few months.
It’s like Steve Sax and his case of the yips. A man played baseball from his childhood, threw the ball most likely millions of times and then one day seemingly lost his ability to do something he did naturally, and well. Many of us have been chugging along in life—in our marriage, with our children, in our careers—and now we’re not sure where we are throwing the ball, or even how to throw the ball.
I was discussing this with a fellow priest the other day, and he gave me a great piece of advice, “Just be you.” How can four months change the essential you? That’s true for me, and that’s true for you. How can four months change the essential you? If your confidence is waning, do something that comes naturally to you, do something you enjoy. In your family or in your workplace, just be you.
I imagine that many coaches gave pep talks to Steve Sax. They probably went something like this: “Steve, you’ve been throwing a baseball since you were two. You are now in your late 20s. You’ve made it to the major leagues, you are one of the most elite baseball players in the world. None of this happened because you can’t throw the ball. None of this happened because you didn’t believe in yourself, or because others didn’t believe in you. So, go be you. Throw the ball like you always have. Believe in yourself. We believe in you.”
This pep talk can apply to each of us: “(insert your name), you’ve been (insert “married,” or “a parent” or “whatever job you do” or “a friend” and most especially “a Christian”) for (insert length of time). You’ve accomplished (insert accomplishments and memories of your marriage, your parenting, job, friendship, life, faith). None of this happened because you didn’t believe in yourself, or because others didn’t believe in you, or because you were kind or focused or helpful. And all of it can’t be destroyed just because we’ve had a few tough months. So, go be you. Do the things you do well. Believe in yourself. Others believe in you. Others are counting on you.”
In case you didn’t know, after struggling with the yips for a few seasons, Steve Sax actually led the league in fielding percentage in 1989. He didn’t do that by quitting. He did that by continuing to show up, work at his craft, and build up his confidence. He kept being him.
Though we may fail in flesh and heart (Psalm 73:26), when God is our strength, we can never truly fail. So, stay true to God, and He will help you stay true to you.
Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had well-nigh slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs; their bodies are sound and sleek. They are not in trouble as other men are; they are not stricken like other men. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness, their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore the people turn and praise them; and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken, and chastened every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have been untrue to the generation of Thy children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Truly thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes, on awaking you despise their phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant, I was like a beast toward Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou dost hold my right hand. Thou dost guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward Thou wilt receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides Thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For lo, those who are far from Thee shall perish; Thou dost put an end to those who are false to Thee. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Thy works. Psalm 73
Believe in God. Believe in yourself. Be you!
**Dedicated to Fr. Tom Pistolis, a priest I have looked to as a mentor and as a friend for over twenty years.
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.
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