During this isolating and embittering Covid-19 pandemic our lives and the life of our St. Vasilios parish family have been turned upside down and I have often turned to what was formative in my life and that is my military background. Those who join the military soon learn to deny their own needs in order to serve the greater good. They learn “keep your chin up” and to “tough it out.” Over the course of time, when we are given such encouragement not to look inward, not to attend to our own needs, we can begin to believe that reaching out for help is a personal weakness and a sign of a character flaw. Furthermore, when promotions are based on showing a high degree of self-reliance, and revealing emotional or spiritual need is a liability to one’s career, the belief in self-sufficiency is greatly reinforced. I remember a really tough Marine who was hospitalized in the VA who I will call AJ. He was tough and respected by his peers as someone who always gave 110%, who never quit, and who never complained. But then the unthinkable happened. He contracted a disease that left him paralyzed. It blind-sided him. He knew the risks of battle. He thought he prepared himself for the possibility of losing a leg or an arm from a roadside explosion, or even a major injury from a sniper. But the indignity of being paralyzed from some disease had never crossed his mind. His years of training to fight an insurgent enemy did not prepare him for the invasion of a microscopic organism and paralysis. AJ was angry, bitter and resentful. He changed from someone who could be counted on in a tough situation to someone who could be counted on to give everyone around him a tough time. In the hospital, he would often pull the sheets up over his head and tell people to go away. He would yell and swear at those who came to help him. Life had treated him unfairly and he took his anger out on anyone who tried to get close to him. He felt contempt for himself and expected that everyone else did as well. Therefore, he rejected everyone who tried to help him, because he feared they would reject him. After a month of trying to get through to him, AJ’s wife confronted him. “AJ I’m going home. I’m seriously thinking of divorcing you. You are throwing yourself a pity party and you are the only guest. I resent your turning away from me. You are selfishly thinking only of yourself and your career. What happened to you happened to all of us! It’s been no picnic for me either.” “As far as I can see, you’ve got a choice. You can continue to nurse your hurt pride. You can continue to blame life and God and everybody around you for a bad situation and feel sorry for yourself! You can keep those covers over your head and try to shut out the world. Or you can get off your pity pot, ask for the help you definitely need, and get on with building your life in new ways. If you are willing to do that, I want to do that with you. If you don’t, I’m not wasting my life because you have decided to waste yours. Let me know if you are willing to ask for help by this time tomorrow, or I’m out of here.” AJ, and all of us, are not alone in facing difficult times and situations. Throughout history people have had to face the unfairness of life. Some have turned bitter and turned their backs on the world; others have turned to ask for help.
The Holy Scriptures are filled with examples of those who decided to reach out, who dared to experience their grief, who dared to hope that, with the help of others and God, their lives could be renewed.
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God heard their cries and called upon Moses to lead the people out of slavery. Jonah disobeyed God’s commands and fled on a ship. A storm arose, and Jonah was cast into the sea and was swallowed by a large fish. In his distress, Jonah called out to God and was saved. The psalmist David says (Psalm 86:1-7) Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication. In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.
Some thoughts to reflect on: What keeps me from reaching out to ask for help? What makes it difficult to trust that God will answer my cry for help? What makes it difficult to believe that people would like to help me? What sadness keeps me from engaging in life? Am I willing to believe that Christ can renew my optimism and sense of hope.
+Rev Christopher P. Foustoukos, Presiding Priest