"How do you do it all?"

I yam what I yam, History, Prayer, Expectations


I was recently asked a question: "How do you do it all? I appreciate the sentiment, but anybody who tries very hard to do anything knows how little they really do.  I had to answer the question though, and here is basically what I said.


First of all I don't "do it"; God does it, and when I do "do it", I do it poorly. There is all kinds of theological support for this understanding, and Scriptures abound[1], and I have my favorites, but  success in the Christian life basically boils down to fully understanding and living by this conviction.


I have learned to accept that I do it poorly. I am at peace with this. This is not the same as accepting it. I fight against my weaknesses and sins every day. I do not like that I do things poorly, and make mistakes in judgment; I do not like the fact that I do not pray with the fervor, attention and constancy that I should, or allow my emotions and passions to influence my actions and judgments negatively, and that I get confused and overwhelmed about many things in my ministry and life. (By the way, all of everyone's life should be a ministry, it is not reserved for a few that wear black.)


I have learned to accept who I am because I am the weak vessel that the Holy Spirit fills, as the ordination prayer basically says. I do not waste time anymore being upset about who I am and how my sins and weaknesses negatively affect my ministry. Obsessing on this wastes energy and makes things worse. With Popeye, I say "I yam what I yam", but I am always trying to get better.


This is the first and main thing. I can do nothing without God, and very little even as He helps me, because I am, well - me, but I know that God takes my infirm efforts and magnifies them. So I concentrate my energy on doing, and not on lamenting that I cannot do.


I also do things a little better now because of my history. I have done it wrong a lot of times. In my past, there were dark times when my duties overwhelmed me, and those periods are history - they happened, and I cannot do anything about the fact that they happened, or that there are repercussions from those times that reach into the present day and will reach into the future. One of those repercussions is positive - I have learned, very slowly, from my mistakes. I have learned to pray more and worry less, to fight bad thoughts, such as anger, a feeling that things are hopeless, feeling overwhelmed, etc - with prayer. I have learned to do (and I count prayer and personal things that recharge me, such as running and working out, and even listening to some Neil Young while working out once in a while) instead of thinking.


I also get a lot of benefit from working out, and having fitness goals that I slowly obtain. When I work out, I feel alive and successful, and always energized physically, and I feel good emotionally. I also run some, and say the Jesus prayer as I go. There is only me and God, and the only problem is not falling on the trail, and watching out for the occasional snake.


I have learned to pray more, not just worry about people, and be engaged in the mechanics of helping them - counseling, confessions, driving to their house, going to the emergency room, etc. I have learned to be organized in my prayer for others. I have my dyptichs on my computer, printed, and on my phone, I use all three mediums, often, and update my dyptichs often. If I tell somebody I will pray for them, it is not just a nice thing to say - I write it down. My goal, usually reached, is to pray for everyone in my flock, and many more I have associations with every day.


When I have bad thoughts: confusion, cynicism, disillusionment, I can usually channel these thoughts into prayer. These thoughts are a call to pray. It is very hard to stop thinking about something without something to replace it. For me, all that I need do is say the Jesus prayer for people. I am very grateful that, when I pray for a person, I am able to do so without thinking about them. I never pray that a person stop doing this or that - no, I just say the simple Jesus prayer for them: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on (whomever)". God does not need me to repeat the prayer, but I do, and it is comforting and energizing to repeat it a certain number of times, usually by using my prayer rope. It is very therapeutic to my soul to just ask God for mercy, and not to think about my perceptions regarding a person's problems, and how I can help them, etc.


The third hugely beneficial thing I have learned is to have no expectations.


When my only expectation is that I should do good because it is good to do good, and not have any other expectation about whether my action will result in something that perceive as good, I am at peace, and feel stronger. When you have expectations with people, there will always be disappointments. Disappointment is hard to deal with. The less I am disappointed, the stronger I am. I cannot afford the distraction of disappointment. It is good to do good, with God helping me, because God is good; that is all. I suppose that is part of the meaning of the aphorism "virtue is its own reward".


Of course I transgress this "inner commandment": all the time, and it gets me in trouble, but to the extent I obey it, I feel light, and free and at peace with who I am and what I am able to do. I want to stress however, I am never satisfied with what I am able to do - I should be able to do much more, since the holy Spirit abides in me. Being comfortable in your own skin is not complacency.


I also have many plans to help people (a pastor must plan, even if he is a bear with very little brain), but somehow without the expectation that my plan must work, or else my effort is wasted. I take great comfort from the Lord's promise: "And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward."[2] I take this to mean that God remembers everything, and causes everything to work to the good, for me and those around me, whether I perceive any change or not. None of our efforts are lost, or ignored in God's eyes!





Priest Seraphim Holland 2014     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Luke 17:10  So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.


James 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.


[2] Mat 10:42