Wednesday, June 27, 2007

THE BURDEN OF SPIRITUAL PARENTING

I have five (5) godsons. The other day one of my godsons called to tell me that another acquaintance of mine had become a catechuemen and this person was saying how much I had influenced their decision to explore Orthodoxy.

My godson then started naming off all the people he knew of whom I had influenced to look at the Orthodox Church.

As I listened to this precious man speak, my heart began to break. "What have I done? I thought to myself. Here I am with the chrism barely dry on my forehead and I am influencing others. What a fool! What an arrogant, prideful, fool! What do I know about Orthodoxy? Have I actually lived this faith? No, but I sure as hell can "talk" about it! O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I was actually surprised by the depth of emotion I felt.

A few years ago I would have been so "proud" that I had been able to "touch" so many lives the "the true faith." I would have mentally "kept score" of the number of people I had been able to "bring to Orthodoxy." Now, I listen to my precious godson speak and all I can do is weep. I weep with the full knowledge that I am, indeed, responsible for these precious souls I have influenced. Before, in my former life as a pastor, I would have gladly went out to "win souls" and thought nothing of leaving these "new converts" to their own devices. "God bless you! Be warmed and filled. Hope you find a good church."

But now, the act of spiritual parenting holds a more weighty import. Now I see that I simply cannot "pretend" I am not responsible for how my life affects others. I am responsible, and I will be held responsible. Lord, have mercy!

By God's grace, perhaps some of these dear souls will become Orthodox, but I have no illusions that I ever will be. I started too late in life and I have still too much baggage from my past that still needs either to be discarded or unpacked. The Church, in Her mercy, claims me as one of Her own, but it isn't so. I am simply too prideful to ever be an actual Christian.

Now, before you get carried away with either a "Oh poor soul" or "Man, what horrible false humility" let me say that this insight into my own sadness about how many lives I've influenced isn't despondency, but another invitation by the Holy Spirit to avoid the false path of "accomplishment" and the constant, healthy call to an honest assessment of my own poverty, WITHOUT shame.

Because, gentle reader, God has no desire to "shame" us, but He does desire our growing honesty of our own poverty and an equally growing awareness of His matchless mercy.

That awareness will not come if we allow the delusions of "accomplishment" or "despondency" to lie to us about ourselves. It is only when we can learn to weep for our own sins and allow others sins to go unnoticed by us that we can begin to enter into that healthy self awareness that invites the transfiguring power of the Holy Spirit to make us new.

If I have influenced others, what of it. Truth be told, I have influenced far more people against the faith than for it by my less-than-Christlike actions. No wonder we pray in the Divine Liturgy "for those who love us and for those who hate us." No wonder our Lord taught us to love our enemies for, many times, our enemies have a much more honest view of who we really are than those who love us.

So, precious reader, if you are foolish enough to allow one such as I to influence you, then please let my life serve as the bad example it so often is and avoid the arrogant fate of a fool.

B

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I know that you have influence. I guess we all do. Whether good or bad! :)

I know that you, via Father Kurt Wheeler, were the first person that made me aware of the Orthodox faith. I made my own conclusions based on what I saw and heard, and I think your damage was minimal. :)

The copy of The Orthodox Way you gave me definitely made a lasting impression and embodied most of the tenets of Orthodoxy that I continually went back to gaze upon the last few years.

I guess this is an opportunity to tell you that I wish you well in your time at Holy Cross. I would be remiss if I didn't say that I would prefer you come back and settle in Georgia. For whatever reason :) I miss you!

Joe

Emily H. said...

This post seems to have some parallels with the one you wrote about Abba Laurence, wherein you said "what have you done to me" but in this story you say "what have I done". And just as surely as Abba Laurence wept over you, now you weep over those you influenced.

Just some interesting parallels - they may mean something or nothing, but I'll let you decide that. :)

Barnabas Powell said...

Thanks Joe.

Who knows what the future holds? Being sent back to serve the Church in North Georgia would be "heaven," But I probably need to learn obedience more than that! :-)

Hope to see you when I pass through Atlanta.

B

Barnabas Powell said...

Emily,

Interesting observation. I may have to ponder that a bit, but first thoughts are:

It probably is a good thing for us to raise our awareness of the eternal stakes involved in affecting others.

The Prophet Isaiah cried out "I am undone" when he saw the Lord "high, and lifted up."

Thanks for the insight.

B

EYTYXOΣ said...

Well, not to add to your misery ;^D, but your writings helped this former non-denominational Charismatic Evangelical Christian in his approach to, and eventual entry into, the Orthodox Church. Consider your "burden" as having been a "blessing" to others (some known to you, but most unknown), and perhaps it won't seem so weighty. God bless your time at seminary.

Barnabas Powell said...

Thanks for adding to my "misery!" :-)

It is a joy to know that the Lord has used my words for His glory.

I confess the reflection above was more about my own temptation to "glory in the flesh" than any remark on the blessing of outreach and influence. I have learned that unless I am vigilant concerning my own poverty, I fall into delusion (my, natural, fallen, state).

Pray for us as we pack! I am a "thrower awayer" and my dear bride is a "oh this piece of paper has so much sentimental valuer!"

B