The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my shelter, Holy Trinity, glory to you. My one and my every hope, now I entrust in you, O Mother of God, under your shelter cover me.
First, A story:
Once upon a time, many, many years ago, (in a land not terribly far away), before I was Orthodox, I was engaged for a time. Yes, I know, shocking. While we never did set a date for it, it did progress far enough for wedding rings to be acquired, and they were unreturnable after the relationship imploded. They were beautiful; gold, gleaming in light; Byzantine style, or so the description was. (I at least had the sense to like Byzantine art back then.)
A few years later, two close friends became engaged. Knowing that their hands were simular in size to mine and my now ex-fiancee, I offered to give them the rings which were now gathering dust in a closet. After thinking about it, and discussing it, they decided not to accept. I asked why, since it was clearly something that was going to save a ton of cash.
My friend’s response was: “It doesn’t feel right. I feel like if you’re giving us these, you’re abandoning your hope for a marriage in the future. I feel like you’re giving up the idea of finding someone. And neither of us want you to do that.”
I replied, half jokingly, “I lost all hope in that a long time ago.”
She then cut through all my bullshit, and said, with a note of sadness: “Yeah, I know, and you shouldn’t have. I worry about that. You shouldn’t give up hope.”
I was pretty floored back then. I realized that I wasn’t joking then. And she was right; my giving the rings to them was influenced by my own belief that I would never get married, and never find anyone, ever again.
Granted, It’s been almost 7 years since then, and I’m still not married, and there are times where I flip flop and lose hope in that, but still, I find I’m less pessimistic than I was then. And for some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot on that sequence of events lately.
Many Orthodox men (and non-Orthodox men, to be sure), are raised with, or culturally expected to, be married, and raise a family. There is a hope that this person is out there. That they’re just around the corner. And then, when it doesn’t happen for some reason or another, a desponance sets in. That God dislikes us. Or that there’s something fundimentally unattractive about us. Or that we’re horrible, abysmal people. That all women inherantly hate us. That we’re ugly. That they’re all out to get us.
It is a problem which resides in yourself, it is not insurmountable. Attitudes can be changed. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean that God hates me. It just means that I’m living in a lousy dating pool. (the fact is, most Orthodox people are!) I have an awkward head? Wear a hat. And so forth.
The problem is, we’re putting our hopes on wordly things. Yeah, I know, it’s pretty trite and cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And romance is, technically, a worldly thing. Sure, marriage lasts into the Kingdom of Heaven, but there’s no need for sex or romance in the far distant future when the Kingdom of God returns to earth, which does make it (or at least some of the trappings) a bit wordly, despite the often beautiful theology surrounding it.
I remember hearing a sermon once, and I wish I could remember which priest it was, where it was mentioned that hope in material things, or worldly things can–and usually does—lead to dissapointment. Which leads to fear, then hatred, and then the dark side. By putting our hopes on a wife, and when after praying the akathist to St. Xenia for 50 days in a row* and one magically still doesn’t show up, we lose hope. We become bitter. And then we start blaming God, which is pretty uncool.
Bitterness is not becoming for a gentleman, I feel.
Instead, we should be placing our hopes on God, just as St. Ioannikos did, in the prayer above. The fact of the matter is that if you place your hope on something OUT of the world, beyond the universe, you’ll find yourself less likely to be dissapointed. And less bitter.
Enjoy the beauty of the world around you. Marvel at the falling leaves of gingkoes and oaks, and the darting flight of the hummingbirds. Look for the little ways in which God manifests in the world around you, and know that God’s got..something going on. Maybe you won’t find someone, but maybe because if you did, you wouldn’t have been able to save a burning school bus filled with kids on their way home from a youth retreat, or something, because maybe you would have been dating someone and not been there to save them.
Point: God is really mysterious. Point: I know that’s cliche. I really do know. And I know it’s not terribly helpful, but you have to start the attitude shift somewhere, because while many women I know do enjoy sarcasm, very few enjoy bitterness and curmudgeon-ness. There is a MASSIVE difference between simply not caring that you’re not married or dating, and being actively grumpy about it. And that difference shows.
Place your hopes in God, gentleman. You will not be dissapointed. And since all things are accomplished through God… you never know.
*Note: I’ve not actually tried this, does it work?** Sorry. Couldn’t resist. 🙂
**I stand corrected, it’s 40 days. Derp.