The Joy of Discomfort and Pain

The Joy of Discomfort and Pain

by Evyenia Pyle

Yesterday was a typical day for me. I got up, went to class, and then went to the gym. The workout I did yesterday was a bit more intense than my normal workouts. I lifted/squatted more than normal and did more miles on the elliptical than I normally do. When I woke up this morning, I was in a lot of pain. When I went to the gym today, I had to take it a bit easier not only to recover but so that I didn’t put myself through more pain. I was texting my group of friends and told them that my body was sore, and while most of them also work out, one asked why I would put myself through that. Why didn’t I stop before I hit my limits? Why did I push through them? I tried to explain to my friend that if I push myself, what is hard now becomes easier, and I improve my fitness. 

She still didn’t understand. 

I used my experience doing cross country in high school to try and explain. Our races were three miles, and we ran at least six miles on our distance days once a week, because it is easier to quickly run three miles when you can moderately run six or more. We did speed workouts where we did mile repeats—a set of miles where you have to run the mile as fast as possible and you get around a 2-4 minute break in between each one (yes it is torture, no I do not recommend it), we did hill workouts, and we even lifted. This was so that we would become the best runners we could be. One could say that it worked: our team won state twice and were runner up the year we didn’t win. So why endure the pain of running and workouts? Not only did it make me a better runner, but it taught me endurance. Now I know working out isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It definitely wasn’t mine, but we are approaching something similar to a difficult workout. 

Lent is coming.

Lent? Already? It’s only February?! Start eating the meat and cheese out of your refrigerator because it will be here before we know it. As a kid, I always dreaded Lent. I didn’t understand why my friends at school could still eat meat but I couldn’t. My mom used to tell my brother and me that fasting built our spiritual muscles. That was not what we wanted to hear. Fasting was hard, and we didn’t want to do it. So why do we do it? Why do we experience the suffering and pain that comes with Lent?

Pain is something that is hard to understand. In the book A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, he compares pain to visiting the dentist. Going to the dentist isn’t fun, and sometimes it’s painful, but we do it so that we stay healthy. Imagine you’re in surgery to fix something. The doctor starts cutting, but it hurts. You tell him to stop. But what happens if the doctor stops? Not only are you open on a table exposed to germs that could cause infection and the intent of the surgery might not be carried out, but if you are left open on the table, you could bleed and die. If the doctor stops cutting and doesn’t complete the surgery, the procedure that was supposed to save your life will do the opposite. So, is that pain worth it?

Is it worth it to go to the dentist and experience discomfort to keep your health in check? Is it worth it to push yourself when exercising to become stronger and more fit? Is it worth it to go through surgery even though there is pain during and after if the surgery will save your life? I think so. What I am trying to portray is the idea that suffering isn’t fun. Pain isn’t something we want to go through. As we approach Great Lent, we are going to experience discomfort and suffering of some kind. Instead of thinking of it as the worst thing ever, like I did as a child, think of it as a way to grow. This is our chance to become spiritually healthy. To experience a small amount of discomfort to strengthen our relationship with God and our life in the Church.

I wish you all well during Lent. Remember that the pain is temporary. “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

As always please feel free to reach out at any time, I pray that our lent this year will bring joy and anticipation to the resurrection of Christ. 

Evyenia Pyle

Evyenia Pyle

Publications Student Leader

Hi, I am Evyenia Pyle, and I am the publications student this year! I am in my second year of college studying speech and hearing sciences! I play 12 instruments as of right now, and in my free time I play with my dog. I am really excited about this upportunity. Never hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you are interested in writing a blog! publicationsstudent@ocf.net .
Time to Hit the Gym

Time to Hit the Gym

Fr. Jonathan Bannon–a priest, an OCF advocate (he was the spiritual father at the last College Conference Midwest!), and a talented graphic designer–drew up a Lenten infographic that’s perfect for college students.

Here are 7 tips for getting into the spiritual gym and getting yourself ready for Pascha!

  1. Confess

The best way to start Lent is on a clean slate. Confession is a good way to grow closer to the Lord and learn from your spiritual father. Your OCF chapter chaplain is very qualified to hear your confession. Confession helps you understand your flaws even deeper and is a good place to know where to start. With confession, you can take all your sorrows to the Lord and start anew. A good resource for guiding yourself in Holy Confession can be found here. Ask yourself the questions and humble yourself so you can be resurrected in Christ!

  1. Commune

Communion is the pathway to Life. John 6:53-54:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

Lent is impossible without the help of our Lord. Learn to depend more and more on our Lord so you can become closer to Him. Many parishes also hold Presanctified Liturgies where you can get some extra strength from our Lord throughout the week. 

  1. Become Charitable

Be a little more generous and more lenient with people. Hold your tongue. Monetary donations are not necessary (but if you are moved to give, OCF is a wonderful place to donate that money). You could also donate your time to perform any of the charitable acts described in the beatitudes. 

  1. Pray the St. Ephraim Prayer Daily

O Lord and Master of my life!

Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,
for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

The prayer of St. Ephraim just puts you into the Lenten mood. Each of the sentences is usually followed by a prostration. HERE is some of the spiritual gymnastics that Lent can call for. Get your blood flowing in the morning and night in devotion. Many prayer books have the St. Ephraim prayer built into them, so you may just need to look for it. 

  1. Be in Church (and OCF) More

Being in the home of Christ will help you stay in the Lenten mood. Your spiritual battery might need some more juice during these stricter times. Another great reason to be in church more is that there is camaraderie with the people who are undergoing the same struggle. Share your triumphs, ask for advice, and swap recipes–you’re not alone in this struggle. Your OCF is another great resource for finding this camaraderie. 

  1. Hide Your Fasting

Fasting is an important part of Lent because it helps us focus on what really matters–relying on God in all things. However, it is important that you try to let your fasting be between you and God (and your spiritual father). Fasting is a tool for self-control, not an ends in and of itself. Fasting is a way for you to train your spiritual muscles, so get to the gym! Please also do not try to make others feel bad about their commitment to fasting, although do not be afraid to encourage others! Sometimes people just need a little push, but do not let prideful thoughts take over because that defeats the whole purpose of fasting. Here is a great guide for some Lenten recipes curated by your OCF board!

  1. When You Fall, Get Back Up!

This is the most important part of Lent. If you break the fast, it’s not the end of the world. We are human, we will fall. The important thing is not to let yourself keep falling, but instead stand up and keep trying. No one can run a marathon without training; use Lent as a training period to come closer to the Lord! 

Great Lent Begins | The Safety Net

Great Lent Begins | The Safety Net

Here we go, team!

The beginning of Great Lent in college is–at least for me–markedly different than how it began in high school. In high school, I lived with a bunch of people who were also awaiting Forgiveness Sunday–I believe the technical term is “family”–and as such, I felt the onset of Great Lent with each passing day. We planned out the meals; we talked about the church services; we shared our plans for fasting.

In college, it just kinda happens. You don’t have the community–or at least, most of us don’t have as strong of one–to commiserate with us about the loss of choice; to remind us of the wonderful opportunity set before us.

This is not an unfamiliar vacuum, I think–it’s the one of which we are perpetually aware, to one degree or another. “It’s tougher to be Orthodox at college,” we constantly tell our young adults–why? Because that omnipresence of Orthodox family is gone. We are “on our own.” We do not have the safety net.

As such, the onset of Lent isn’t as ground-shaking in college. The vacuum eats up the reverberations, the crash of the impact, and we are left with a world that feels perplexingly unchanged, from Friday into Monday. We have entered the most important period of the Orthodox calendar–but the world outside has just kept on spinning.

We–as we so often are as college students–are left responsible for far more of our world than we once were. We no longer feel the change because of our environment; rather, we are responsible for creating the change–both in ourselves and in our environment.

What does that mean, concretely? It means that our Lenten effort–and that’s a very intentional word: effort–has expanded. We once were responsible for fasting–from meat and dairy and television and music and the like–when we lived in the environment that supported our fast, bolstered our faith, facilitated our church attendance, limited our access to these temptations. Now, we are not only responsible for fasting. We are also responsible for the environment: sculpting our daily world to better provide that support, limit that access, facilitate that attendance. In a way, we are responsible for both walking the tightrope, and erecting the safety net below it.

The mind may immediately refute this notion. “I don’t need to erect the safety net,” the mind says. “I needed the safety net when I was younger, but I’m older now. I have a stronger will, a better resolve. I need to prove to myself, my family, my priest that I can pull off this fast without the help, the positive environment. It will count more that way, anyway.”

This, I would argue, is the temptation of the prideful mind. This mind is not interested in the fast–it’s interested in success, in esteem, in victory over the odds. Completing the fast doesn’t end with the good little Orthodox Christian, victoriously standing upright in the dramatic sunlight like the end of a movie–the fast ends with a dead and risen God. That is the victory.

As such, you could argue about how much the safety net, the supportive environment, is needed all you like. The environment helps us, strengthens our fast, sharpens our faith. I’m interested in that, regardless of the sacrifices it means I have to make–not going out to restaurants that I know have few fasting options; not attending parties that my friends will attend; making new spring break plans.

Enjoy your new responsibility; gear your new opportunity to a more productive, self-altering fast than you’ve ever experienced. It will be hard–thank God for that. It’s the hard things that make us better.

 

Thinking Like the Publican

Thinking Like the Publican

Image from Ted on Flickr

“Thank God, that I am not like this tax collector.”

Man, that Pharisee sounds kinda dumb, doesn’t he?

That’s always–God forgive me–one of my first thoughts when I hear the Gospel reading of this Sunday. “You knucklehead! How is it a good idea to thank God for not making you like another one of God’s creations? Dude!”

This really is one of the most extraordinary weeks that the Church gives us. A fast-free week–not following any feast day–but rather that we may “fast from our fasting,” if you will. That we may step away from the works and practices that we so often and so easily substitute for “faith,” and investigate rather our faith in God.

That’s what the publican had that the Pharisee lacked–or rather, that with which the Pharisee struggled. Faith in God.

The Pharisee still believed in God, I believe–but as the Gospel says, the Pharisee stood at the altar and prayed “with himself.” He didn’t pray with Christ, or with the saints, with the Theotokos, as we as Christians are called to do.

The Pharisee prayed with himself because he had faith in himself–not in God. He had faith in his tithes, so he prayed to his tithes; he had faith in his fasting, so he prayed to his fasting. He gave his tithes and fasting and church attendance–his works–praise. He sanctified his works in the temple with his words; he exalted them, because he believed through them he had been saved.

The publican, as we know, had faith in God. He didn’t turn to the liturgical services, the hymnography and the psalms, the works of fasting and tithing as the source of mercy. He spoke from his heart, plainly to God, beseeching that God save him. The publican was only interested in that which mattered: being with God by being saved through Him. He didn’t have works; he had faith.

The parable of the publican and the Pharisee is so powerful, and thank God we use it to begin our fasting period. But when we hear it, we must be wary, less fall into the Pharisee’s very trap:

“Thank God, that I am not like the Pharisee.”

Uh-oh.

“Thank God, that I am not like the Pharisee. I really have a relationship with God, I speak to God directly–like the publican–and I don’t get caught up in making sure I pray every day, making sure I fast when I should, making sure I attend church. I feel spiritual–I feel a connection with something divine–and I don’t get all caught up in the trappings of the Church.”

We forget, sometimes, that the Pharisees are/were the “good” guys. At least, they weren’t actively bad–they were men of faith in God, but often too entrenched in the faith they knew to recognize the New Testament and the coming of the Messiah. The Pharisees modeled good behavior to the faithful: things like church attendance, fasting, and tithing fall squarely under that category.

The traditions of the Church and practices taught by the fathers aren’t bad–they’re good! They’re powerful and necessary and rejuvenating, but only when they serve their purpose: bringing us closer to God, that we may be saved by Him. When they are done for their own sakes–or worse, for the sake of our self-assuredness and pride–they become noxious distractions.

Avoid this week and this Lent the Pharisee’s trap–do not find yourself judging or boasting in either direction. The publican is our example: in humility and without fear, doing whatever he could to draw closer to God.

The Fast

The Fast

In this space, I speak a lot about the limits and constraints that college life puts on our participation of the faith.

I’ve written about prayer, confession, service, almsgiving–all through the lens of our limits as poor, busy, terrified-for-our-future college students.

The intention there is clear–and, I believe, justified. As a ministry oriented towards college students and the Orthodox faith, it is appropriate that we would create resources to help college students address the obstacles between them and the ideal practice of their faith. It is also appropriate that we would share stories of success, of the aspects of our collegiate life that help us grow in our faith (see: reflections on OCF retreats/programs).

Of all of the sacraments and practices of the Church, however, I don’t think any one is as clearly helped by our college life than fasting.

Those are my two cents–they’re worth exactly two pennies. If your experience is different, which is entirely possible, then you may disagree. Furthermore, I am in no way saying that fasting is easy. It is not. I will struggle with it, whine (waaay too much) about it, and fail at it inevitable this season.

But my experience of fasting at college has always boiled down to pure, undiluted, individual choice.

Of course, most everything boils down to choice. Pray before you go to sleep? That’s a choice. Get up for church on Sunday mornings? That’s a choice. But in so many of these life choices, we can feel constrained and steered by many other external factors. We feel that these motivations and limitations rob us of our choice.

But fasting–the exclusion of meat and/or dairy from the diet–more easily distances itself from these limiting factors. Why? Because, at college, you have significant control over what you eat.

Let’s say you’re on a meal plan. Well, you typically walk into a large cafeteria that has many food options–and there’s going to inevitably be at least a vegetarian option, if not two or three. In that moment in which you hold the empty tray in your hands, there is nothing impeding your path to the pepperoni pizza, and there is nothing impeding your path to the salads. The call is yours.

Let’s say you aren’t on a meal plan–then you buy your own food. Yeah, if you have roommates who cook for the whole apartment, now you’re in a bit of a bind. You have to strike a balance between asking them to keep your dietary restrictions in mind for 40 days (less, because you won’t even be at college for some of them) and cooking your own food. But I believe that’s possible.

Especially because OCF has a fasting cookbook for you!

New OCF College Lenten Cookbook

Boom-shakalaka!

As I said at the beginning of this post, OCF helps address the obstacles between the college student and the full realization of their faith. Despite the extent to which I personally find fasting to boil down to a choice, you may not. That’s where the cookbook comes in. It’s full of recipes to help you make it through the fast, recipes that are so simple you can make many of them with nothing but a plate and a microwave.

Often, we leapfrog choice with willful ignorance. Because choice is hard–it forces us to evaluate what we truly value–and often leads to less instantly gratifying decisions, we attempt to circumvent it by denying its existence. We ignore the information that gives us the power to choose. We don’t learn the strategies, listen to the sermons, read the books, so we can pretend we did the best we could–because that was all we knew.

If you’ve arrived here–at the end of the post–then your choice in fasting has hopefully been exposed. If your mind, instinctively seeking an out, whispered an insistence that you didn’t have the means to cook fasting food for yourself, hopefully the cookbook proves a counter-punching resource for you.

It’s my favorite Bible quote–it seems to always apply–so let’s drop it right here to end this post. In the 13th chapter of John, Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet, reminded them that they view him as the Teacher, reminded them of all of the examples he has given them. He’s preparing to be Crucified. He then says:

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. – John 13:17

Note: If you have any cool fasting recipes/easy fasting treats or anything in between, the 2018 Lenten Cookbook is currently being compiled. Go here for a recipe submission form!