Most parents realize that keeping their babies healthy requires taking them to the pediatrician for their “well baby” check-ups. At each visit the doctor weighs and measures their kids to make sure they are growing at a healthy rate, checking eyesight and hearing, and answering any questions about behavior and health issues.
As parents, we can’t wait for our children to reach important milestones – the first pounds gained, sitting up straight, rolling over, crawling, walking and eating solid food. Indeed, any parent would be devastated if the doctor diagnosed their child with “Failure to thrive.” Failure to thrive is a term used to describe a child whose growth falls below the expected norm.
So often, as we grow up into adulthood, we avoid going to the doctor, we avoid looking at our mental, physical and spiritual health. Is this because we recognize that we are already falling into the category of “Failing to grow and thrive?” Or, are we actively pursuing “solid food” growing into maturity as Christian men and women? If so, we are in the process of transformation! If we receive the diagnosis “failure to thrive” then in fact, we are dying and in need of help and intervention.
During Great Lent, we have a tremendous opportunity to nurture our spiritual health – to grow, to develop, to change! But this change requires effort, discipline, concentration and application. We do not automatically receive Christian maturity if we go to church a few times a month, do our cross and leave it at that. It is unreasonable to expect spiritual growth to require no effort. St. Paul’s comparison of our spiritual development to the rigorous training of an athlete applies as well to our spiritual discipline. Are we willing to fast? Are we willing to pray? Are we willing to extend compassion and love to others? As parents, are we willing to do everything possible to encourage our children’s spiritual growth? What are our priorities?
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Each of us must take personal responsibility for our own spiritual health and direction our family is heading. Christ our Lord, wants to run towards us like the father of the prodigal son. He stands at the door, waiting for our knock! He is ready to fill our hearts with His love and forgiveness. We, like the prodigal, must recognize our state, our sin, our ‘failure to thrive’ – and make every effort to return to Him! This requires self-reflection and no more excuses. We must rid ourselves of “if only… it’s because… I’m too busy… I wish this or that was different…” It is time for each of us to take responsibility. No more excuses! Are we thriving? Are we living our spiritual life to the best of our ability? Or, are we failing to grow? Nothing could be more important than the pursuit of a spiritual life.
Let us take to heart the words of St. Isaac the Syrian:
“Be mindful of God, so that in every moment He may be mindful of you. If He is mindful of you, He will give you salvation. Do not forget Him, letting yourselves be seduced by vain distractions. Do you want Him to forget you in your times of temptation? Stay near Him and obey Him in the days of your prosperity. You will be able to rely on His word in difficult days, because prayer will keep you safe in His continued presence. Remain constantly before His face, think of Him, remember Him in your heart. Otherwise, if you only meet Him from time to time, you risk losing your close friendship with Him.”
~ St. Isaac the Syrian
In the Orthodox Christian Church, you are not alone. We are a Church that desires maturity, desires faith, desires love. We are a body seeking to live a transfigured life in Christ. Invite your priest to walk by your side as you run the race and growing in your relationship with God during Great Lent.
During the next 40 days, make an appointment to receive the Sacrament of Holy Confession. Make every effort to attend a few weekday services. Prioritize bringing your family every week (not just once in a while) to Divine Liturgy and experience this glorious season of transformation.
Begin today. Begin by opening your heart to God. Begin with “Lord, Have Mercy.”