Grasping for the Integrated Life

by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd

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What’s the biggest source of anxiety in your life? From dreadfully long commutes, to excessively demanding employers, to overwhelming debt, to nightmarish family illness, we each have particular circumstances through which we constantly have to navigate, and from which we seek to escape. It’s easy to believe that those circumstances are the reasons for our biggest anxieties. Yet throughout Christian history, there have been some remarkable people who, in spite of their circumstances, have been able to transcend their conditions. Why were they able to experience joy, even in the midst of struggles as great as physical persecution? What is their secret?

Their secret has to do with the particular goals they set for their life and how they order their lives after those goals…how they’ve invested themselves. Really, their secret to transcending those anxiety producing circumstances has everything to do with the very name of our Church, “Orthodox, and what that name literally means. In other words, the secret is in giving “Right Glory.” So, to keep us from going down the road of a mere corny cliché, let’s unpack that a little.

Often, we Orthodox Christians forget (or misunderstand) what it means to be Orthodox—in other words, what it truly means to give “Right Glory.” If Orthodox Christians are even slightly connected to the literal meaning of the word, “Orthodox,” they typically think that it has to do with the Orthodox Christian sacramental life and most especially the style of liturgical worship we do. And while it certainly includes and is centered upon our regular participation in the sacraments and our corporate worship, that alone is a very anorexic, impoverished way of understanding what it means to give “Right Glory.” The fuller, transcendent experience of Orthodoxy (giving Right Glory) is having one’s entire life integrated with God…of having everything about one’s life be in right relationship with God. An integrated life realizes that we’re not owners of anything. An integrated life realizes that God owns my job, my relationships, my home, my money, my possessions, my particular gifts and talents and everything about who I am…and in His good grace He has entrusted them to me to accomplish His will in the world. That begs the question, “What is His will?”

God’s will is for our own hearts and the hearts of the world around us and all of creation to become reconciled to Him. When we embody what we were created for, the love between the three Persons of the Trinity, and we use everything we do and are to embody God’s loving desire to bring all things into unity with Him, then we begin living His will. So, while that most certainly includes our regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church and our corporate worship…giving “Right Glory,” (truly being Orthodox Christians) means integrating every other part of our lives with fulfilling God’s will. When we finally live in this integrated way (with God finally becoming central to our whole life), then we find that we’ve re-oriented ourselves in pursuit of a goal worthy of our attention. Then we discover that we’ve ultimately become a part of something that has the power to transcend our circumstances. 

So now, let’s get back to addressing the most anxiety producing thing in our lives. The most profound sense of anxiety comes when we no longer see our circumstances and our gifts/talents as things to be used to fulfill God’s will. Anxiety comes most intensely into our lives when we sell-out our lives toward ambitions that just aren’t worthy of our full attention—idols.  And that’s ultimately what an idol is. It’s something that you take on that’s too small to orient your life around…too shallow to function in the enthrallingly worthy, transcendent way our attentions were made for. It might be a good thing, but not an ultimate thing. And that dis-integrates us from God and from each other.

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Unfortunately, we’re all expert idol makers and idol worshippers. And in the world around us, there are countless idols calling to us, trying to draw us in from every imaginable direction. But, the pursuit of those idols produces the anxiety in our lives, because we’re going off in several directions after things that are far too small.  

Choosing to take on life goals that are too small, too shallow, and not the ultimate thing, are actually the foundation of all sin. This was true with the fall of Adam & Eve in the Garden, and it continues on through the choices we make every day of our lives today. In Adam & Eve, it was the desire to live apart from God and to be in charge of their own destiny. And while we like to hold on to the illusion that God comes first in our lives, as soon as we hold that up to the light for scrutiny, we discover just how false we are. Why not put it to the test right now?

Let’s start with a couple of pertinent questions. Is any part of your human efforts throughout your day indifferent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Has the world (outside of Church each Sunday) become your field of Christianity yet? In all of those endeavors, what are they really centered upon?

For instance, your occupation is a good thing. Saint Paul councils, “Anyone who isn’t willing to work shouldn’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Yet what is the overarching goal of your work? Because, St Paul also exhorts, “Whatever work you do should be wholeheartedly for the Lord, not for human interests, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. You are serving Christ the Lord” (Colossians 3:23-24). So, if our lives become primarily focused on our occupation, instead of us using our occupation to serve God’s interests, then we’ve made an idol of our occupation and we’re not giving “Right Glory” to God…which causes us to dis-integrate, filling us with anxiety.

Also, for instance, your family is a good thing. And Saint Paul warns, “If anyone doesn’t take care of their own relatives, especially their immediate family, they have denied the Christian faith and are worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Yet, in a sobering message, Jesus also cautions us with, “Anyone who loves their father or mother or son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). So, if our life is totally wrapped up around our family, instead of leading our family to grow in unity with God, then we’ve made an idol of our family and we’re not giving “Right Glory” to God…causing us to dis-integrate, filling us with anxiety. If your family becomes everything your life is about, you will damage and cripple your family.

This truism applies to every single part of our life. Giving God “Right Glory”—integrating His will into everything we do, and are, and have—is key to transcending our circumstances and eliminating our most powerful source of anxiety.

The hierarchy of how our lives are ordered will always have consequences. When we get our hierarchies out of order (when anything begins to take a place above giving God “Right Glory”), then we end up paying a price. Our world becomes disordered, because we weren’t created to be that way. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength. This is to be on your hearts. Impress this on your children. Talk about this when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Whatever you put your hand to do...let it be about this. Whatever you put your mind to contemplate, let it be about this. Make sure that this Love for God is experienced in the entry and the exit of your home. Then, the Lord will cause you and your family to flourish’ (Deuteronomy 6). So, giving God “Right Glory,” do yourself a favor and begin living the integrated life.