The Lesson of Sadness

The Lesson of Sadness

In season 2 of NBC’s The Good Place, the character Michael (who is an immortal being) learns about the human concept of death. His sudden grasp of the concept throws him into an existential crisis, until the protagonist of the show, Eleanor Shellstrop, intervenes. “I don’t know if what I’m going to say is going to hurt or help, but screw it,” she says to him. “Do you know what’s really happening right now? You’re learning what it’s like to be human. All humans are aware of death. So, we’re all a little bit sad, all the time. That’s just the deal.”

“Sounds like a crappy deal,” Michael responds.

“Well yeah, it is. But we don’t get offered any other ones,” Eleanor continues. “And if you try to ignore your sadness, it just ends up leaking out of you anyway. I’ve been there. Everybody’s been there. So, don’t fight it.”

I’m an avid binger of The Good Place, and this particular moment in the show is most definitely the one that’s had the most impact on me. Just the simple concept of “we’re all a little bit sad, all the time” is such an accurate description of human nature. It’s true that our lives are filled with that perpetual sense of sadness and anxiety that stems from the notion of death, whether that be the fear of death, the presence of death, or the death of something we hold dear to our hearts. Life is filled with death: the death of loved ones, the death of specific times and eras, the death of childhood, of innocence, of love, and of relationships. Death can be seen in many different forms, and all of the various manifestations of death are difficult in their own unique way.

Currently, I’m dealing with the death of a specific time and era. I recently moved from Illinois to Colorado for college, which meant I had to leave behind my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. My boyfriend and I are now in a long-distance relationship, and one thing I’ve noticed throughout the week we’ve been apart is that his absence has settled into me in the form of a perpetual ache. I’m enjoying my new classes and my new environment, but that constant little ache is something that most likely won’t leave. This means that I need to learn how to integrate that ache into my life.

That idea of accepting sadness as embedded into daily human life isn’t just something talked about on The Good Place. It’s also an idea that’s very well-articulated in Orthodox Christianity, specifically, when it comes to depression. When I was depressed during my junior year, I wasn’t very open to Orthodox Christianity. I was more or less agnostic: constantly wrestling with religion and unable to produce or find answers to satisfy myself. Because of this, I was trying my hardest to find comfort and solace in what the secular world was providing for me. I followed advice pages on Instagram, I looked through self-help books and blogs, and I watched a myriad of YouTube videos. They were often very helpful, and provided me with a few techniques for combating negative thoughts and feelings that I still use today. However, there was one common theme among them all. They all seemed to point me towards superficial solutions, such as talking to friends or practicing self-care. An idea that was fairly common in the secular ideology was that sadness was bad and that we shouldn’t feel sad because we have the right to be happy. I was bombarded with the impression that I should constantly be doing things that would take away the sadness; I should be filling my life with things that made me feel warm, fuzzy, and happy. This brought me into a very toxic mindset where I would indignantly ask myself why on earth I couldn’t be happy if I, in fact, deserved happiness and where my sadness seemed isolating and ostracizing because I thought that I was “supposed to be happy.” I felt like the world was against me; It seemed like everything was unfair because I didn’t feel the way I wanted to feel.

Secular western culture is very focused on individualism. We see this in our career paths: children are more likely to leave their parents and family in order to follow their own personal vocation than they would be in other cultures or in past eras. We see this in our concepts of entertainment: we are more likely to focus on what we prefer to do in our free time rather than what our families want to do. This idea of individualism is also very evident through the secular view on depression. Basically, we are told that if we do not feel happy and fulfilled in our individual lives, there is something wrong. We are bogged down with the concept of personal fulfillment, and we are constantly trying to obtain it in any way we can. We spend time in toxic habits, such as chronic partying, drinking, or drug use because it makes us feel good which we believe is how we’re supposed to feel.

You may wonder where I’m going with this. When I was in my state of depression, I went to a Greek Orthodox monastery with my sister to see if it would make me feel better. During this time, I was having difficulty sitting in church because church services were something that made me anxious and upset, particularly because of the never-ending pressure I received from my church community to combat my depression with prayer along with the ongoing criticism I faced because of my perpetual religious doubt. So, while my sister attended Vespers, I wandered around the empty monastery until I found an interesting book in the bookstore. I don’t remember what it was called, but I know that the book was about the Orthodox perspective on depression. Though the Orthodox Church was, at the time, something I was really struggling with, I was searching for answers in any place I could get them. So, I began to read.

The book mentioned something that I had never heard before: humans are supposed to be sad. We are supposed to be a little bit sad, all the time, just like Eleanor Shellstrop said. And just like the quote in The Good Place, masked sadness will always find a way to leak out. The book was a little more in depth than The Good Place, however. It talked about how humans are, because of the fall, separated from God. And with that separation comes death, and with the realization of death comes the reality that we are meant to be a little bit sad all of the time. During that night of reading, I learned that the first step to conquering depression is to realize that, as humans, we aren’t supposed to be happy all the time. But at the same time, we aren’t supposed to let the reality of death bog us down. Instead, we are called to find a way to mingle that very human sadness with the divine joy of eternal life. We are supposed to learn how to be hopeful and filled with joy while simultaneously recognizing the ever-present ache that settles inside us. The idea that sadness shouldn’t be constantly ignored or shut down is a concept that I still hold very near and dear to my heart.

So how does this relate to long-distance relationships? Well, I haven’t been in a long distance relationship for long, but it’s my experience that the pain of separation shows up as a constant ache. It’s sort of a dull roar, if you will, of sadness that is manageable but always present. But I know that that kind of ache isn’t something that’s bad or unnatural. It isn’t something I’m supposed to get rid of. Rather, it’s a good lesson on what being human is really like. It’s just a part of the ache we all feel in being separated from (or, if you’ll allow me the comparison, in a long-distance relationship with) God. We are all aware of death in its many different forms. Because of this awareness, we are all a little bit sad, all the time. And maybe that’s not wrong. Maybe that’s not something we should suppress or ignore. Our sadness, no matter the source, is just a manifestation of our humanity. Humanity is bittersweet and ambiguous, and pain and sadness are realities that are hard to accept. But we are called to unify our sadness and our joy, and ignoring the sadness is like ignoring an aspect of our humanity. As Eleanor Shellstrop says: “I’ve been there. Everybody’s been there. So, don’t fight it.”

Alison Standish

Alison Standish

Guest Blog Contributor

My name is Alison Standish. I grew up in Aurora Illinois, but I am currently in my freshman year at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado. I am pursuing a major in Mass Communications, and I hope to eventually have a career where I can tell stories for a living. Some of my favorite things include: writing, reading, listening to music, longboarding, and spending as much time as I possibly can exploring the outdoors. 

Come Receive the Light

Come Receive the Light

by Demetra Chiafos

Every year on Pascha, the church goes dark and the priest emerges from the altar holding a single candle, its flame burning brightly. He chants, “Come, receive the light from the light that is never overtaken by night.” It is simple in its beauty, and it contains Christ’s promise to us. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Drink from the well of eternal life and never thirst again. Come, receive the light.

This promise is beautifully comforting. Unfortunately, the world we live in is full of darkness, and we are flooded with heartbreaking news. Even in our own lives, our own cities, on our own college campuses, suffering is never too far out of reach. We live in a broken world. However, despite this brokenness, Christians are called to rejoice in the knowledge that Christ reigns triumphant, ever drawing us closer to His eternal Kingdom.

When we acknowledge that this earthly life is not permanent, orienting ourselves toward Christ and His eternal Kingdom, we begin to see the world differently. When we focus on Christ triumphing over death, shattering the gates of Hades by dying on the Cross, we begin to see His candle through the darkness much more clearly. At OCF’s Summer Leadership Institute, we talked about how Christ never forsakes us. Even when it feels like God isn’t answering our prayers, or like senseless evil surrounds us, God will never abandon us. As it is written in Psalms 139:7-12 (NKJV):

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.

The OCF story that I tell frequently, however, is how my OCF chapter and parish community at school were there for me during one of the most difficult weeks of my life. My dad passed away during finals week in December of 2018. At its most intense and acute, grief felt like a physical ache that would never go away. I felt blinded by it, stumbling through each day, trying to do the things that needed to be done.

However, through my OCF chapter, God made the night “shine as the day” like in the Psalm. I texted our group chat that I didn’t want to be alone and they surrounded me like my personal battalion of angels. My dad died Sunday night. They compared schedules and made sure that one of them was with me Monday through Friday until I could get home, studying with me, eating lunch with me, or taking me to church. Anything I needed, anything they could say or do, they were there. No questions asked.

They are the perfect example of Christ’s love: eager to serve, immediate to help. There’s a quote attributed to Fred Rogers about how even in the times of worst despair throughout history, there have always been helpers, and instead of despairing we should look for the helpers. Through this experience, I have realized that to be true. There are always so many helpers: those who stand up for their bullied peers in high school, those who give the food they’re holding to the homeless with no second thought, those who have ripped the shirt off their back to staunch someone else’s bleeding. My friends who rallied around me in my time of need. I can think of more examples than I can list here.

 “Come, receive the light.” It is indeed a promise that no matter how dark our world gets, the light will never be overtaken. Beyond a promise, though, it is also a calling. We are called to be the helpers and to embody Christ’s light. Let us all approach Christ, our good and loving God, and rejoice in Him—for no matter how dark the world looks, He will never abandon us.

 

Demetra Chiafos

Demetra Chiafos

Guest Author

 My name is Demetra Chiafos and I am a senior at The Ohio State University! I am originally from Iowa. My dual degree is in dance and the Japanese language. This is my third year as a member of the student leadership board for the OSU OCF chapter. I love reading, writing, and traveling. I also play piano and sing in the choir at my school parish!

Life Rants & Girls’ Night | Spiritual Companionship

Life Rants & Girls’ Night | Spiritual Companionship

Among my group of girlfriends, the subject of spiritual fathers has come up a lot lately–how to build a relationship with a priest enough to be able to confide in them, confession with priests, reaching out, etc. It’s been a topic of conversation and anxiety for a while, especially as we get increasingly busier with our lives and search for spiritual guidance.

Flashback about three weeks ago. I was talking to a close friend of mine among the said group. I called her to catch up but I admittedly had an ulterior motive. I was having a life-transition crisis and I needed to vent it out. I knew she would offer the perfect guidance as a friend, fellow Christian, and a critic to tell me I needed to chill out–which I very much needed. My rant to her was a flurry of stress and worry over every little decision I had made in the past month. Whether I made the right school choice, career aspirations, why the heck I left Texas (best country out there), etc. etc. (there were a lot of et ceteras). It was a life update turned into a storm of stress and worry and anxiety over every little thing. As I was venting through all this, I did begrudgingly acknowledge that I was worrying about it way more than I was praying about it. I had been so caught up in analyzing of all of it that I just could not get out of my head enough to take a step back and turn to God. Come to think of it, as worried as I was, I did have to admit that I had gotten some cool opportunities since starting school and even got a job opportunity that I would have never gotten if I hadn’t moved. In fact, there were a lot of moments over the past month that were little blessings to keep me going, even though I hadn’t thought to focus on them.

As I was talking this out (I’m very much a talk-it-out person, down to calling my sister at the grocery store about whether to get Ben & Jerry’s or Talenti), my friend laughed.

“You know I had a wise friend once tell me that when things get overwhelming, you just need to step back and P.R.A.Y. And you literally just did that, but backwards.”

The P.R.A.Y. acronym stands for Praise, Repent, Ask for others, and then for Yourself. What’s ironic is that I was the one who had told her about that method (can’t take all the credit; shout out to Gigi Shadid, 2012 CSR Winter Camp speaker). And she was right–I basically used the P.R.A.Y. method but backwards, choosing to count my blessings last instead of first. It was a funny full-circle moment as I sheepishly consented to my backwardness of thought.

Fast forward to a week or two later during our girls’ night discussion. Our topic was spiritual fathers since it had been on all of our minds (this is what we read if you want to know). Throughout the course of our conversation, we came to the realization that, in a way, we were all each other’s spiritual advisors. Don’t get me wrong–friends do not by any means replace a clergy advisor. But we realized that there are a lot more people surrounding us who are leading us on the Path than we really saw because we were so focused on the idea of a “spiritual father” alone, not realizing the countless ways we were advising and guiding each other spiritually.

So here’s my take-away for you. Lean on each other for spiritual guidance and companionship, friends. The people you surround yourself with, whether through OCF or other means, will have more of an impact on you than you realize, and taking this life journey with them makes it so much more comforting and doable. After all, it is said that you come to emulate the five people you spend the most time with. Think of who those five people are and whether you would be proud to reflect them. For me the answer is thankfully a resounding yes.


Hibbah Kaileh is a graduate student at George Washington University studying global security policy. She served as the South Student Leader on the 2015-2016 Student Leadership Board. Among her many talents is the ability to voraciously devour a novel (usually Harry Potter) or a Netflix series (usually The Office) in the span of a few days.

Ode to OCF

Ode to OCF

As a senior graduating in less than a month, my levels of nostalgia have been at an all- time high. Anything from a roommate movie night to starting the last season of The Office (I’ve been working at it for almost a year) will spark some mad feels. But what finally put me over the edge and brought on the waterworks was the final conference call of the 2016 OCF Student Leadership Board. As the outgoing chairman relayed his reflection of our fruitful year together, and the incoming chairwoman expressed both excitement and nervousness at the year to come, and Christina, our chapter relations manager, topped it off with a summary of the incredible things we’ve accomplished this past year, I was struck with the realization that when I look back on my senior year of college, it will be dominated by the memory of OCF – what we have accomplished as a board, everything our region has progressed towards, and the way in which my faith grew more than I had realized. So here is my little reflection on OCF as we get ready to pass on the torch.

To my region: I was blessed enough to be preceded as south regional leader by someone I know, admire, and love very much, so from the start it was a smooth transition and exciting position to fill. What I did not anticipate was the love, pride, and perspective I got out of this experience. The elation and pure joy that was relayed from my district leaders when a meticulously planned and advertised event resulted in 3 or 5 attendees was truly not of this world. Only someone so filled with the love of Christ would be that overjoyed at the gathering of Orthodox Christian college students and the fellowship it had to offer – whether that involved 2 or 20 people.

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For when 2 or 3 are gather in my name, there I am with them. Matthew 18:20

This position has equipped me with everything I need to graduate and venture into the
real world. There were so many struggles and frustrations that came with this position (answer your emails people!!), but in retrospect, every single one ended up being its own little blessing (funny how that happens). Whether that was discouragement at low turnout numbers or lack of commitment, it’s crazy how looking back, I barely remember those moments. Instead what stands out is my excitement at SLI for the upcoming year. And the awkward yet warm interactions with district leaders you finally meet in person after months of texts, phone calls, and video chatting. Or a south regional retreat at which I was constantly overwhelmed by the subtle love and faith I was surrounded by. I am in a few leadership organizations at school and I can say without a doubt that this position has better prepared me than all of those.

Which leads me to the next thing: a tribute to OCF for the ways it has helped me grow in my faith. Shameless plug: read the blog. Listen to the podcasts. Go to the events. On an
informative level, I think I’ve learned more about my faith and Orthodoxy this year than ever before. Anytime I had questions or was going through a spiritual struggle, I knew without a doubt that there would be some OCF resource to help me through it. For maybe the second time in my college career, I actually accepted and welcomed a debate when I had someone come up to me to ask me about my faith and if I had been saved, because I knew that I had enough knowledge to back myself up, but mostly the spiritual steadfastness to defend my faith. I graduate in less than a month and with that comes a lot of emotion. Nostalgia, excitement, nausea. But I haven’t yet been worried. If anything, I’ve gotten worried over the fact that I am not worried. We are always told not worry (Matthew 6:25-34) but of course that’s so much easier said than done. But the fact that I have been able to put my complete trust in God on my plans after graduation is a tribute to the impact on the strength of my faith OCF has given me. This has been done time and time again through the talks, discussions, event, and people. Definitely the people.

All the people. But then. Really specific people.

11896206_10153530345564244_1689552141238256997_nSo. Last but not least. A tribute to the 2015-2016 SLB (I’m listening to the Narnia soundtrack as I type this so it’s making this sound super majestic). I knew from the beginning of SLI – where my first impression of most of you was how ravenously hunger you were and WE NEED FOOD NOW – y’all were grand human beings that I would have a lot to learn from. Everyone’s enthusiasm and faith was contagious from the beginning. A majority of you I only met in person once or twice, but I am confident I could pick up the phone right now at 12:43 AM and call any of you, and you would welcome me with open arms.

You all don’t realize how much I admire you; y’all are the people I will constantly be creeping on Facebook, and y’all are the people I will always look towards as an example of how to be a loving image of Christ. Thank you for the late night talks at SLI, College Conference, and otherwise. Thank you for empathizing with my SLB and life frustrations. Thank you for ignoring my attempted jokes on GroupMe. Thank you for the theological and spiritual insight you always have to offer over whatever subject any of us bring up. Thank you for avoiding getting charged by three moose with me. Thank you for the hilarious snapchats. Thank you for saying, “you’re in my prayers,” because that, more than anything, would give me a sense of peace through whatever was going on at the time. Thank you so so much for taking this spiritual journey with me. It’s odd, because some of those thank you’s were with certain people in mind (the moose one definitely), most were to everyone, despite the fact that some of you I barely have been able to talk to throughout the year. That’s the beauty of Orthodoxy and our faith isn’t it? It’s so easy to develop such a deep bond through this beautiful and everlasting belief that we share, and from then on, all things are possible. How else could a Student Leadership Board of this magnitude and distance work so cohesively?

Writing this has been so frustrating because there are no words to describe this experience and this love. It is an agape love – sacrificial and unconditional. It is such a divine gift. I just take comfort in the fact that if you have involved yourself with OCF this past year, you may know what I am trying to convey. So glory to God.

To the next board: good luck and God bless. You have some big shoes to fill.


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Hibbah Kaileh is graduating from the University of North Texas with her BA in International Studies. She currently serves as the South Regional Student Leader on the 2015-2016 Student Leadership Board.