My “One Thing”

Priest Paul Coats | 19 May 2016

At various times and circumstances in my life I’ve struggled with a sense of accomplishment and a sense of order.

I’m a pretty well-ordered person, outwardly, but inside I often feel like I’m in danger of failure . . . and I find myself trying to address that by doing more or “accomplishing” more. I “get disciplined” and do some extra planning, and try to follow through better. This goes on for some time, with varying degrees of success. But I easily abandon my best-laid plans of “orderly doing” with the slightest excuse or simply evolve into something else, another mode of operation. All this is probably a very common problem, the psychology or spirituality of which is pretty basic and well understood–by others!

Prayer and silence is something I want to do, but have a hard time sticking with it, as do many people. My latest attempt at surrendering my own will to God is to start praying at a particular time of day, and always keep that time of prayer. I have a prayer rule that is my own, but whether I complete it all or only parts is not as important as starting at the same time every day. This is my “one thing” that is a test of my own willingness to surrender my will to God. And even this small thing has proven extremely hard to do . . . a sign of exactly how out-of-control and unwilling I am to surrender anything to God. I think the person that can really follow through with this “small” thing has really achieved something pretty awesome, and by God’s grace has acquired some humility.

It occurs to me that the Liturgy of the Church (meaning any service) begins at a particular time and in most churches does not begin late. This is one of many examples of how the Church does for us what we may not be able to sustain on our own. Collectively, we keep each other to the ascetic rule, so to speak–the rule of beginning prayer at a particular time, always, every day (every day the Liturgy is said). Of course starting on time, always at a particular time, doesn’t seem ascetic because we’re all used to it . . . we have to operate that way to be courteous to others and so that our communal life will have order and peace. But this is also a gift to us for our salvation and continued growth–being a part of the community, and accountable to others, becomes our external motivation, a help, a support, a means to get to prayer on time. Of course, we even fall down at this and come to church late sometimes. But . . . prayers begin without us! This can be a hard reality, and a warning, that others are taking up their place in the Kingdom of God whether we are there to partake or not. I’m thankful for this “point” of surrender which does not wholly depend on me.

Fr. Paul Coats (SVOTS ’08) serves a new OCA mission station in Rock Hill, SC.  He also works as an engineer for a national trade association.  His wife Gerianne is currently directing community youth theater while home-schooling their daughter Helen, who helps lead the singing at the mission.



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