For the past several months, most of these midweek reflections have been based on Father Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living. For most of these I have found relevant articles and blog posts which I have shared with you, but when I looked to find something written about the next maxim, I could find nothing appropriate or helpful. Because the number of his maxims is 55, that puts the next one, number 28, at the other side of the crest of the hill that is the halfway point. If number 27 represents reaching the midway point, it was appropriate to reach the halfway point of these wonderful but difficult habits with “Do the most difficult and painful things first“. Now that we crest the hill of the halfway point, how crucial it is to receive the next maxim: “Face reality.”
So let’s face it–none of us wants to face reality. Too often we find it frightening, oppressive, hopeless, and overwhelming. If that sounds overly dramatic to you, consider that in our day addiction to anything is on the rise, and anything that provides an escape sells well. Just consider–honestly–your reaction to hearing the words “Face reality.” Did that sentiment lift up your mood or take it in the opposite direction? For most people, most of the time, facing reality is not an uplifting proposition. Which is why this is such a key practice, for life in general but specifically for Christian life.
It’s understandable why “facing reality” can seem to be something we really don’t want to do. We hear the worst of what’s happening everywhere in the world (which just at this particular moment includes the threat of attacks and perhaps war, wildfires raging out of control, plane crashes and various people being caught doing horrible things). And most of that is happening far from us. In our lives, we face financial difficulties, the constant battle against a sickness and/or recovery from injury, and strained relationships.
So with so much trouble, far and near, of course we don’t want to face reality!
But that’s because we don’t understand reality. Our Orthodox Christian understanding of our lives in this world does not minimize the difficulty of anything I mentioned and the thousands of difficulties I didn’t. The prominence of Psalms in our worship and the sheer multitude of times we are invited to say “Lord, have mercy” testify that we are not encouraged to sugarcoat or whitewash the difficulties of this life. But those same words from the Psalms and our invitation to seek the Lord’s mercy point us to one fact that changes every other fact: God is with us.
The Prophet Isaiah foretold the birth of Christ long before it happened and named him Emmanuel, which means “God with us“. The current Feast of Theophany invites us to understand that the God who was born as an infant in our midst at Christmas grew to be a man who would show us in no uncertain terms–should we choose to lay aside our uncertainty–that because God is with us, every aspect of reality has been changed immeasurably. The stresses and strains of this life too often result in our loss of joy, peace, and hope. But the reconsideration of God with us in this life–with all of its various difficulties and challenges–allows us to maintain and even increase our sense of joy, peace, and hope, because of His presence with us through those same difficulties.
Didn’t he himself endure all the same difficulties we do? Yes, all of them, but with one exception: the Sinless One never suffered the consequences of his sin because there was none. Instead, He accepts the consequences of our sin–most significantly death–in order to free us even from the one difficulty He did not himself experience. So yes, He has suffered all of the worst that this world has to offer. Having done so, He stands with us as we suffer it as well.
He stands with us in our fear. He stands with us in our loneliness. He stands with us in our insecurity. He stands with us in our hopelessness. And because He stands with us, if we so choose, we can experience all of those formerly-threatening realities, and without escaping them, experience them not as the things that bring us down, but as the very things which increase our hope, our peace, and even our joy. “For lo, through the cross, has joy come in to all the world“, we say at every Liturgy.
He is the Savior. He is the Almighty. He is the conquer of death. And because He is Who He is, our reality is not it at all what it used to be. The reality that we are invited to face is not a hopeless, threatening reality. It is a reality where all of those threats have been stripped of their ultimate power and destructiveness, and transformed into the very means by which we receive all the blessings our good and loving God has to give us. No, we don’t escape the difficulties, we face those harsh realities. But because God is with us, the reality in which we face them is no longer harsh.
Let’s receive this Good News and So let’s, each of us, face reality, but let’s face it as it is now, as God is with us. It’s not what it used to be. If we’re hesitant to face reality, it’s because we haven’t seen that God has transformed it. Let’s see it, as it is, in its fullness. Let’s realize that to face it is to face a world where suffering is not an end, but the very means by which we face the most important reality of all: that our good and loving God is, above all, with us. And that because He Is, the realities we face may be difficult, but they are never without the fullness of hope, peace, and joy, if we choose face that reality, the only reality that’s really real.