Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.
If you have never been to the church that I serve and wanted to visit, the first thing you’d need is an address. The address of our church is 2418 Swann Avenue in Tampa. Let’s say that you were driving down from Atlanta. Most people know that I-75 connects Atlanta to Tampa. It’s roughly 450 miles from Atlanta to Tampa, and knowing that I-75 connects the two cities will get you 440 miles of the way from Atlanta to my parish. What about these last ten miles? You need some kind of map or directions or you’ll have no idea where to get off the highway, what streets to turn on, how far you’d need to travel on these streets, etc. A commonly known fact about I-75 connecting two cities would get you 98% of the way there, but it won’t get you to your destination.
Our insights will get us a good distance. They will. There are many people who are “successful” in business or in family that have no relationship with God, who have little knowledge of God, or who don’t believe in God. Just like I can successfully get from Atlanta to Tampa without a map. However, if there is a specific destination in Tampa I’m trying to get to, I will eventually need some directions. And in life, if there is a specific destination we are trying to get to, we will eventually need God. Here’s the thing, some people may not realize until they are on their death bed, that everything they amassed will not be going with them when they die. They will wonder, “what’s next?” I’ve seen many people at the end of life, people who were strong in their faith and people who didn’t really believe. I’ve never met a person who didn’t wonder “what’s next?”
The theme for our Nativity journey this year is “Guide Us to Thy Perfect Light.” The perfect light is the kingdom of God. We can get snippets of the perfect light in this life, but these moments don’t last. They are quickly enveloped by the stresses, concerns and temptations of life. When we talk about trusting in God to guide us, we have to understand where the destination is that we want guidance to. The destination for the Christians is heaven. The road map includes things like faith, prayer, obedience, and charity. And these things will get us far, just like I-75 will get us 98% of the way from Atlanta to St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa. In trusting God, we have to give that 2% that we don’t know to Him. We have to rely on Him for direction. We have to rely on Him to fill the gaps we can’t fill on our own.
I might have the most predictable day lined up for myself and there will still be gaps, things that are unknown, things that creep up that I wasn’t expecting. I know how to do many of the things that will creep up in my life but not everything. Just like Mary knew many of the things that would happen in her life but not everything. Just like we can get a good distance to our destination but we can’t all the way there without directions. Which is why today’s verse is so good. Because when I’m lacking direction, when I’m not sure of which way to go, asking God to “make me know the way I should go,” (Psalm 143:8) is a sentiment I can use on a daily basis.
Many people get intimidated when it comes to praying because they think it requires fancy words or a lot of time. And many people offer prayers to God using fancy words, but they forget to listen to God. That’s like punching directions into your phone and not waiting for the page to load and point the way. In this case, we’ve asked for directions but didn’t take the time to wait for them. In speaking with God, in asking Him for directions, it is important that after we ask, that we wait for God to load those directions into our minds, hearts and souls. If we are asking Him to teach us where to go and how to get there, we have to then let go and allow His grace to fill our souls.
Going back to trusting like Mary, Mary certainly asked God for direction, and she most certainly was patient in waiting for God to speak to the things she was pondering in her heart. We revere the Virgin Mary as “most holy, pure, blessed and glorious lady” (from the Divine Liturgy and many other services). These attributes did not develop easily or quickly. They developed through extremely purposeful and intentional living, from giving God that (at least) 2% that we can’t figure out. Going back to the example of traveling from Atlanta to Tampa, there would be a point when someone had to learn even where I-75 is, where they would know absolutely nothing about travel. Yet, even when the road is known, at least most of it, there will always be a part of the road that is not known. If making it to our parish is a goal, getting close won’t get you there. If making it to heaven is the goal, getting close isn’t enough. And if magnifying the Lord is a daily goal, even a unit of time as small as a day has empty spots that can only be filled with the grace of God. Which is why it is important that we punch in directions/ask God through prayer to teach us the way to walk. And it’s important to listen, to let Him load the directions into our minds, hearts and souls. Final point—our journeys are more fruitful when we punch in the directions at the beginning and don’t wait until we are lost or in heavy traffic. Likewise, it is best to start the day off asking God for direction, rather than wait until we have made a mistake or are in the midst of heavy temptation. Spend time with God each morning.
Our Savior from on high the Orient from the East visited us who in the dark and shadow hitherto had lain; now we have found the truth indeed. And this is so because from the Virgin the Lord is born. (Exapostelarion, Orthros, Nativity, December 25, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Are your mornings quiet enough to hear the voice of God?