Hi there, Yankee Lady. Welcome. Let me try to respond to some of your questions from my own perspective.
“Did anyone fall in love with the theology of Orthodoxy but have a sense of disconnect with the practice?”
Yes. Unlike many people who are first introduced to Orthodoxy via the liturgy, I learned about it first through reading, and actually read quite a bit about it before I ever darkened the door of an Orthodox church. I came from Catholicism, so the idea of being in a collective-liturgical type church is not off-putting to me in terms of my own background, but the array of other Orthodox practices are always a struggle for me, and always have been.
“I pray and ask Him to help me to know Him but I've found that there's an element of doubt now about both His existence and His love.”
One thing that a rather wise priest told me once was that everyone experiences moments of doubt, regardless of how they outwardly appear, and what they may be willing to admit to someone else. He told me that even priests at times doubt the Eucharist as they are serving the liturgy GÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âª to doubt is human. I don’t think that any of us are immune from doubt. I guess the struggle really is to manage our doubts and fears so as to prevent ourselves, to the extent we can, from falling down that slope into despair.
“I don't want to give the impression I don't enjoy getting to know others at all. Just not 50 of them at once!”
Yes, yes. I guess those of us who are introverted (and we are disproportionately represented on the internet in places like this, for pretty clear reasons) can relate to this. The thing that we have to remember is that those who are extroverts really, really, really do not understand what it is like to be an introvert because they are not inside our heads. I honestly think that the introvert/extrovert divide is one of the larger psychological fissures in our own society a place that can be an extremely tiring, irritating place for introverts because it is largely organized around ideas and behaviors that are preferred by extroverts. Coffee hour is a case in point GÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âª I have not spent very much time at coffee hours, by comparison to others, because I find it personally exhausting and not enjoyable. Now, it may be the case that the extroverts will interpret this - as they often do in other contexts as well - as being aloof, haughty, inconsiderate, mean, etc., but there’s not much we can do about that because it is likely that they will continue to evaluate our own behavior through the prism of their own behavioral expectations, which are wholly extrovert based. As a result, I have come to believe and accept that they will probably always think that way about introverts when we act according to our personality type. I think that it is psychologically healthier for introverts to act according to their own personality type and, and this is the critical bit, to stop worrying about what the extroverts think about us, because the likelihood of changing the way they think about us is minimal. I think that there are a lot of introverts who try to conform to extrovert behavioral expectations (the societal pressure to do this is intense and ubiquitous) and are made very, very psychologically unhappy by this, sometimes to the point of depression. There are times, of course, when we have to be in larger social groups, but I think as introverts we have to manage our exposure to these situations, when we can, in order to maintain what I would call good mental hygiene. In any case, regarding coffee hour, I’d recommend either skipping it, or toning down your participation in it to 1-2 times a month, depending on how you feel.
“The constant emphasis on struggle just leaves me feeling exhausted and defeated. This is the joy of faith?”
Yes, I understand this feeling as well. I think sometimes it is fruitful to take a step back and relax. Trying to live a moral life is always a struggle, but there are times when it’s better to take a step back from the heat of the battle, as it were, and relax and reflect about things a bit in a somewhat different frame from the constant struggle that is referred to in the Fathers. It’s sometimes important, or at least I have found it helpful, during these periods to peel the onion back a bit, to go back to basics in terms of why I am doing what I am doing GÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âª basic issues, I mean, like God, the meaning of life, etc., to refocus on the bigger picture, rather than the multitude of smaller, closer battles in my life.
I think another poster mentioned the book that has been written by The Monks of New Skete about happiness as an attitude that should be cultivated in Orthodoxy. They saw themselves that there was perhaps too little emphasis in much of Orthodoxy on joy and happiness, and I would highly recommend their book, which is accessibly written and full of positive ideas about why Orthodox do the things that they do, and how you can go about that from a positive, rather than a dejected and negative, perspective. Very good stuff here indeed.
“Has anyone else fallen out of love with Orthodoxy?”
Yes and no. During the period prior to my conversion and for some time thereafter I went through what I would call my “religious phase”. It was not really sustainable, and I had to step back from that and try to reestablish some balance in my own life. I still love Orthodoxy, but it is now a part of my larger life, and not always (or I should say often not) the dominant theme in what is happening in my life. Others may disagree with this approach, but for me it was important to try to reestablish some balance and sense of normalcy. It’ss possible to do this in the context of Orthodoxy, but you have to be careful. Why? Because at the present time Orthodoxy seems to be “long”, if you will, on rather gung-ho converts. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone by saying that, I was one myself several years ago, and I think it may just be a part of the process of growing into a new faith. But the problem is that in some parishes these people may, from time to time, play a leading role, and make it harder for someone who wants to take a more moderated approach to their Orthodox faith and praxis GÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âª harder in subtle ways like parish atmosphere, expectations expressed either by the priest or at coffee hour, etc. In Orthodoxy in the USA, we have less opportunity to “melt in” as compared with the RCC or one of the Protestant megachurches, where you can melt in and out rather anonymously and have a more private faith life. In Orthodoxy our churches are much smaller, generally, and so while it isn’t always possible to be anonymous, it is possible to manage the process better so that we can maintain a more moderated approach without too much conflict GÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âª some ways to do this include moderating or eliminating participation in coffee hour, moderating one’s attendance at non-DL services, changing the way you personally relate to the liturgy when you are there and the like. So I think that it’s possible to have a more moderated approach, but you need to be thoughtful about what you are doing and how you are going about things in order to manage it, depending, again, on the particular parish you are dealing with.
I hope that some of this is helpful, although it does represent only my own experience of some of these things over the last 4-5 years.