Deviating so far from the Orthodox Church for the amount of time that I did was destructive at best. I was in a state of constant cynicism and despair that I could not seem to escape without the help of materialistic items and activities that remedied my issues on a short-term basis. I even turned to one-on-one therapy with a psychiatrist, but I found that it only amplified my frequency of my obsessive rumination. There was always something missing from my life, and I spent years searching for it. By the grace of God, I was brought back into the church with the help of some incredible people.
Joining OCCM led me to my missing link. Through insightful speakers, a welcoming environment, opportunities to aid the less fortunate by way of volunteering, as well as a fruitful trip to the monastery, I finally found that “something” that was missing from my life. Spoiler alert: it was God. This amazing discovery allowed me to realign myself with God on my path back into the Orthodox Church. This is where I had the best time of my life. When I look back, I like to call it my “honeymoon phase”.
My walk with God started where my determination to further experience Christ made me feel unstoppable. I always felt motivated to go to liturgy, vespers, pray every morning and night and the feeling of fulfillment I got from it all was indescribable. It was like I was trying to make up for lost time after being away from Him for so long, and there are no worldly things that could seize or demotivate me from staying on my path. It was to the point where I was able to reassess relationships with friends, even my closer ones, and the things that I would do pre-realignment. I began to separate myself from people or things that led me to sin, with no hesitation. Everything that I would do and knew was wrong vanished from my life. Obtaining that ability, alone, made me feel the strength of uniting myself with Christ, and there was no looking back from there. I could visualize myself being on this path for the rest of my life, especially if I was going to feel these remarkable, advantageous, extraordinary feelings forever. I had never felt such utter joy and satisfaction before. This is the important part to focus on. There were feelings and emotions attached to all of this. This honeymoon phase lasted for about six months.
At the end of the second semester, I had to leave all of my OCCM friends to go back to my hometown for the summer. Before my departure, one of them gave me a piece of advice: “Go to church.” He said it as if I had a hard time going to church at that point, but I wasn’t. If anything, liturgical services excited me. I would look forward to attending them and I believed I would always feel this way. Church was never going to be hard for me to bring myself to - so I had thought.
Within two weeks, I was able to find my church home for the summer. I began to serve every Friday, Saturday & Sunday, I confessed when it felt necessary, I did my best to keep up with reading my bible, and I prayed every morning, night and sometimes even in my free time. This was more than the routine I kept up within my college town. I was doing everything right, yet there was this apathy behind it all. I did not experience the same joy I was absolutely beaming with prior to moving cities. Nevertheless, I maintained this routine for a couple more weeks. Alas, still nothing. I felt empty. I would listen to sermons, but I could not hang onto a single word. I would look at the words in my bible but found myself unable to comprehend a single verse. Praying was starting to feel like a chore. Do not get me wrong - my faith remained, but the things that elicited such beautiful, compelling, and empowering emotions from me in my new beginning seemed impossible to be revitalized for most of my summer. I felt miserable. Nothing came as easily as it had a month ago. I thought to myself every day, ‘Once I go back to college and see my church and OCCM friends I will finally be grounded and every single feeling of emptiness, loneliness, and sadness will go away!’ But this was not the case. After attending liturgy at my college town and seeing all of the faces of my church and OCCM friends who I love so much, I found that it was still not enough to rekindle the emotions I had once felt when I initially started walking in Him. This caused me to stop praying, and even the mere thought of looking at my bible was too much. I even started falling back into old habits and seeing old friends that I had cut off months ago. I would have never thought I would have gone that far up to fall back down to rock bottom again. I went to my father of confession, but I was unable to successfully articulate what was going on. I bottled all of my feelings and thoughts up inside because I believed I could not be helped. I wallowed in my despair and ultimately felt defeated. In my eyes, I was a fraud. I felt like a bad Christian and began to second guess my role in the church. Being in this state of limbo was horrific. I had nowhere or no one to turn to.
One night, during tasbeha, one of my OCCM friends noticed that I was visibly upset. Afterwards, while we were driving to meet some people for dinner, she asked me what was wrong. I wish I had known. She told me, in her words, to “word vomit,” so I did. At some point in my babbling, I revealed that I was mad at God. That was the first time I had ever said that out loud. This is where she realized the severity of my issue, and we skipped dinner to talk about it. I explained to her everything that had been going on, in full candidness. What I absolutely loved was that she did not give me a rushed “It will get better!” She took her time and sat there, in her driver’s seat, thinking, absorbing what I had said and how to help. Her thoughtful answer was the solvency to my uncertainty.
According to her, my perception of “how God worked” was all wrong. During this honeymoon phase, my emotions were aligned with my path to walk in Him. That was an incredible gift, but little did I know it could expire. The aforementioned was a farce. I felt that having a routine that entailed me being an active member of church and OCCM was going to keep me in God’s good graces and I would be able to maintain the impassioned feelings I had. However, it is unfair for me to expect that doing certain things, like consistently going to church or praying every day, will ensure that everything will always be easy and perfect. There are going to be days, weeks, months, or even years where I do not feel that praying will give me complete comfort or feel like tasbeha gives me the motivation to walk in Him. Creating a strong foundation of faith entails keeping up with prayers, confession, liturgy, and so on, even when it does not automatically give reward or give off some feeling of gratification. Faith is not a transaction. God is not a vending machine. Attaching feelings to faith will only lead to disappointment since emotions are transient.
Hearing her say this was hard to hear. I was embarrassed that I had even thought that way, but honestly, I feel like many people view God in this manner. For example, one might believe praying to do well on his or her test will ensure the chances of them getting a good score on it. They believe prayer equals instant gratification, but this simply is not the case. It is not supposed to come easily like that. If it did, faith would not be a concept the world has such a hard time accepting. Walking in Him is the right thing to do. It is not always easy, but it never was supposed to be. It seems so obvious and simple, but it is something I had never realized. Those feelings I had during my “honeymoon phase” only showed me how special and awesome Christ is. It was like a sign that I am on the right path, so I am incredibly grateful for that gift. I did not realize what the word “hard” meant until I started rebuilding my relationship with God, but I now know it means that the hardships will be worthwhile.
Colossians 2:5-7 “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”