What the Young Can Learn from the Old on Personal Piety
I think that the one decisive issue for young Christians — especially those of my generation — is personal piety. Everyone wants the « old faith » — but we try to find it in new ways. Who does not want to live in a simple dependency and expectancy of light continually touched by God’s presence, as are Fathers and Mothers did and do? We want the results, but who wants the work?
Perhaps there is some other way to achieve it? Perhaps another denomination, or and other religion has a new, better path? Perhaps it is not possible or necessary to work so hard at personal piety. Good things will come (without any effort!) to those who wait!
The most important discovery of my young adult life is that if I truly desire the faith of my Fathers, I must follow the path of their personal piety. There really is no alternative.
I must read my Bible, yes, read it. I must pray — throughout the day, yes, but also in long stretches of concentrated prayer in the evenings and mornings — preferably on my knees or on my face. Sin must be ruthlessly identified and eliminated. When serious enough, there must be confession and at times a protracted relationship of accountability with stronger Christians. For there is no doubt that there lies within each saint a wicked sinner. We need the friendship and support of our brethren, to conquer this enemy within!
Yes, and we must at times fast. Fast from pleasures, fast from media, fast from sex, fast from food. It weakens the enemy, and sharpens our appetite for holiness.
And we cannot stop meeting together with the Saints — for with all their warts and sins, they are Christ’s body as much or more then we are. Above all we must not lead a « counter-church alternative » — in example or in teaching — for God will destroy those who destroy His body (1 Cor. 3:17). And we must not judge the church as hypocritical — for those who judge will be judged, and who could bear to have all their hypocrisies and hidden sins rooted out, amplified, exposed and condemned with the same ruthless honesty with which my generation scrutinizes the church (Mat. 7:2)?
But all of this, you say, smacks far too much of moth balls and dust, of ancient body odors, of trembling hands, of wrinkled skin. Do we not need a new and relevant and exciting faith for tomorrow?
But consider for a moment the quiet power, the simple faith, the overflowing joy which lies just behind that failing body which you so despise. Consider with what patience illness is faced, with what courage they smile on the very face of death, with what prayers end abundant love they bear the apostasy and rejection of children, and with what grace and perseverance the isolation and decline of age is met. When a young man, full of energy and vitality, fairly floating in the gushing effluence of life dances and yells on a stage, you rise with acclamations and applause, even call him a great leader, a sage, a saint. But where is the great talent in this? It takes no great skill to meet numbers « 20 » and « 30 » with energy and perseverance. But show me a woman or man who can walk glowingly through the ominous progression of « 60, » « 70, » « 80, » « 90, » and I will show you a saint and a warrior, who is worthy of emulation, and worthy of praise.
If you feel that true piety has been the domain of the elderly and infirm, then you must change that. That is up to you, my young friend! Is the baton of holiness clutched exclusively by the « uncool » hands of the elderly? Then you must take it! Give it a new face! Have the elders carried it too long? Then show us what a young person — in the very prime and flower of youth — can do with this simple, quiet faith!
Imagine what your life could be like, if you did not merely end your life, but began it with the simple, eloquent, old and life-giving faith of our Fathers?
If you will not, there is one thing for sure: there is none that you may blame your boredom, your lack of spiritual power, your confusion, your detachment from Christian community, your lack of intimacy with God. Who can you blame but yourself, you pampered child of the West, ungrateful recipient of a hard-won heritage? How many thousands died, so that your bible could gather dust on your shelf? And your soul languishes, mere inches from the bread of life. There is none to blame but yourself for the coldness of your heart, the paleness of your God, the iron-clad grip of sin, the powerlessness of your prayers.
Do not be surprised that you who had been so indolent in training are now useless, and even vulnerable — yes, even slain and taken into captivity — on the battlefield life!
For if you want the faith of your Fathers, you must walk their difficult but beautiful road of personal holiness. There simply is no other way!