I watched as my husband awoke and sat up on the edge of our bed in the still and darkness of the night. As he walked across the room and peered out one of our bedroom windows, I startled him when I asked, “Are you okay?”
“Oh…I’ve been awake for awhile.”
“Writing in my head. I’ve been debating whether or not to get up and type it out so I can go back to sleep.”
“Will you tell me about it?”
My mind and heart were thinking about someone. Thinking about how this person had been wrongfully and maliciously attacked and the damage these attacks had inflicted on not only this person but those around them. I was praying that God would grant those who had been hurt peace and healing while also praying that the people who attacked would seek and find forgiveness.
When we feel wronged, it’s easier than we’d like to think to respond in outrage. It’s much harder to step back and ask oneself, “Okay…what’s really going on here?”
Someone who is at peace with themselves and God, does not contemplate criticizing and finding fault in others. Someone who has found peace in their heart understands that they are a sinner and ask God to forgive and have mercy upon them often.
I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first… – Communion Prayer, Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged: and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own? – Matthew 7:13
Someone who is bitter, hurt, in agony will find it much easier to lash out at their neighbor. It’s not easy to be calm when you have so much anguish going on inside of you. If this person is in enough pain and agony, you might even find them acting like a frightened and wounded animal – lashing out at even those who are trying to help them. Often times, you’ll find that these individuals will criticize and belittle others in an effort to not only make themselves feel better but also to show themselves and whomever they can convince that the person they’re attacking is worthless. It’s a harsh reality to face that you need help. That you are a sinner. That you need to seek forgiveness. That you could be doing more. Someone who is doing all of these things is a threat to you. They challenge all the excuses you’ve created for yourself. They show that it is possible to overcome pain, forgive, and love others again. These are hard things to accept when you’ve been deeply hurt.
You will often find that the Church is referred to as a hospital. It is a place of healing for those who are sick and afflicted – if only we are willing to accept it. It is through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Holy Communion, and confession that we find the medicine our bodies and souls so desperately ache for.
When I was much younger, we had gone to my grandparents house for dinner one night. No special occasion other than to have dinner with family. I sat on the bar stool overlooking the counter where my grandma was preparing dinner and out of my mouth came, “Grandma, we can’t eat meat tonight. It’s Friday.”
Immediately, she put up the food she had been preparing and began taking other things out of the refrigerator. The next thing I knew, both of my parents had nonchalantly pulled me into the adjoining room to talk to me.
“You just embarrassed your grandma. Fasting is between you and God and not to be announced to everyone else what you are doing.”
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. – Matthew 6:16-18
For there is no profit in trumpeting your good deeds, nor any gain in advertising your fasting. – Saint Basil the Great, Homily on Fasting
They continued, “Any meal that is offered to you by someone else is a gift. It is rude for you to ask for something different or better. Making other people feel bad because they didn’t give you what you want defeats the purpose of fasting.”
This has stayed with me my entire life. Fasting is more than just following a set of rules. Fasting is there to teach us how to say no. No to our desires. No to our impulses. It takes us from being selfish to being selfless.
The spirit of fasting is much more than legalistically following a set of rules. (Although the guidelines are there for a reason and should not be tossed to the side because we don’t like them.) Fasting is not about torturing oneself into repentance. It’s about avoiding the expensive foods and thereby allowing yourself the ability to give an even greater amount to someone in need. It’s about sacrifice. It’s about seeing the needs of others before your own wants and desires. It’s also not about finding substitutes that fit within the fasting rules thereby avoiding having to give up our favorite foods. We’ve missed the point when we’ve made vegan brownies for dessert. The idea is to go without in order to give – not find a loop hole within the guidelines and satisfy our own personal indulgences. It’s hard to give up comforts we’ve grown attached to. The thing is – even when we think we have no money to share – more than likely we do. The harsh reality is that we just don’t want to make the sacrifice in order to do it.
It is within these healing aspects of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Holy Communion, and confession that we can move beyond the pain. It is how we learn to love again instead tearing others down to make ourselves look better.
Sadly, after being wounded, it’s not always easy to pray for and forgive the person who has inflicted the wounds but their actions have shown us that this is what they need most.
Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon those who envy and affront me, and do me mischief, and do not let them perish through me, a sinner. – Orthodox Study Bible, Morning Prayers