In my forty years of ministry, I have counselled a number of people who suffered from a deep sense of loneliness. Over time, whatever family or friends that they had known disappeared from their life. This resulted in a cloud of depression, a feeling of being forsaken, that hung over them. You can try to tell them that they are not really alone, that Jesus loves them and is always with them, but I found that it rarely helped. One man reminded me that even Jesus cried out “My God, why have you forsaken me.”
Feeling forsaken is a very human emotion, and it is certainly one that we want to avoid if possible. We always want to have family and friends around us up until the day we die. Yet, to be honest, there are times when we feel forsaken even with a large family and many friends. People let us down and sometimes they aren’t available for us. Sometimes, people are unkind or even bullies, and we feel very alone. Sometimes, things that we thought we understood or relied on like the government or a club we belonged to or even the Church goes in directions that we don’t understand or agree with. We can feel alone or forsaken. Finally, life can sometimes become so difficult, painful or disappointing that we feel that God has abandoned us. We join our voice to the forsaken cry of the Crucified Lord – God, why have you forsaken me?
Considering all of this, it may seem strange to say that Jesus wants us to live a forsaken life.
Let’s consider the following from St. Matthew.
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me.”
In the Orthodox Church, we talk a lot about confession and people often ask about how to make a good confession. It is certainly vital that we examine ourselves and confess to the priest so that we can take communion. However, confession is a more that this. Confession is how we live each day. It is a witness made to family, friends, and the world. A little Greek will help us.
The word for witness is μάρτυς, or martyr. There was a time when confessing the Lord Jesus meant rejection, persecution, and even death. It meant that everyone would forsake you including your family. Jesus knew what would come to those who followed him, and so he spoke of a cross that they would carry. One of the aspects of this cross is the experience of a forsaken life. If anyone is not willing to live a forsaken life, there was no use following him.
We modern folks, especially those of us who live in America, are glad that giving witness to Jesus does not mean living a forsaken life. We thank God that we live in a more cultured and advanced society where all are free to exercise their religion. Oh, really?
Maybe its just me, or maybe its a function of aging, that I feel like such a dinosaur. As a young man, I lived a rather radical life and I was very liberal in my politics. Now, it seems as if the world has changed, especially in regards to Christianity. There is an uneasy feeling abroad that confessing Jesus will once again mean martyrdom of some type or another. American society seems determined to create a complete secular state in which God has no part in the public sphere. Whatever the situation, I am most happy to be a Christian as long as it doesn’t cost me too much, especially if it doesn’t cost me family or friends that I hold dear.
People often tell me that they just can’t cross themselves in public or pray over meals. Why? The truth is that they don’t want to be rejected or ridiculed by co-workers, fellow students, or friends.
I have had the honor of assisting people as they journeyed into the Orthodox Faith. As far as I know. most have remained Orthodox, but sadly some fell away. They found that the Orthodox witness, that is the Orthodox lifestyle, demanded too much from them. There were those who came close to the Faith, but backed away because of the fear that their family would oppose or reject them. They faced the Cross and could not embrace it.
Some embraced the Faith, but no longer witness to it by the way they live. They no longer pray on a regular basis; they no longer fast with any conviction, and they are lax in their study, support, and attendance. They are Orthodox in name only and their neighbors don’t bother them. Why should they? They live a lifestyle that matches the lifestyle of our culture, and there is little in the way they live that makes them stand out. Is it any wonder why faith is so weak, why Orthodoxy means so little to most of us, and even why we feel so far from God. The corrosive power of this American culture is strong.
Who willingly takes up a cross? What would motivate us to do that? Again, let’s consider the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed you; what shall we have therefore? …. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”
The Lord is demanding, but He is also very generous. We shall receive “a hundredfold” for what we have forsaken and in addition, everlasting life. A hundred fold! Now there is a wise investment. If I could get that kind of return in the financial world, I would sell everything and invest! Yet, even though I know that I cannot reap what I do not sow, I put little into following Jesus. He says that if we are ashamed of him “in this adulterous generation” and will give no witness, then he will not confess us in the world to come.
Perhaps the time is coming (or is already here) when confessing Jesus in word and in deed will mean that we will live a forsaken life. It may mean that we will be rejected by family and friends. Who knows? If it is so, then let us rejoice and have courage. The world may consider us to be of no consequence, the last of all, but in the eyes of God we will be the first.
In the end of our life, at our death, we will truly be forsaken of all things – possessions, family, friends, reputation- it will all pass away. May it not be that we are forsaken by God, for then we will be forsaken indeed.