Friday, April 11, 2008

33. Be strict with yourself.

Dear Sisters,

This is my last post -- I have commenters lined up for the remaining week of the fast -- so I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for blessing me throughout this Lent with your thoughts, ideas and struggles.

This maxim is so difficult for me to live out. Our society constantly exhorts us to be easy on ourselves: have another cookie, go get your nails done, watch some TV and put your feet up. And I have to confess that often, I listen to that voice. My schedule is very flexible, and I'm a star procrastinator, so often I'll look back at the end of the day and think, "What did I *do* today?" Nothing! This is the result of being too easy on yourself: wasted time that you'll never get back.

The irony is that on days when I don't have time for messing around, like if we're preparing for dinner guests or I have a big project to work on for school, I end up feeling much more productive at the end of the day, and that productivity makes me happy -- even if I haven't "relaxed" at all. I can see why just about every monastic tradition relies on a strict daily schedule and constant labor -- even at something menial, like picking olives or scrubbing floors -- the work is good for your mind and your body, and it gives you a sense of your vocation and place in the world.

In Fr. Hopko's commentary on the Maxims, he includes another one about having a daily schedule of activities -- not leaving your schedule up to whim or caprice. As a piano teacher, I'm constantly exhorting my students to build practicing into their daily routine; once the schedule becomes expected, it will be easier and more rewarding to follow. It's the same with any activity: housework, exercise, or even prayer.

I'm sure tomorrow's poster will have something to say about this, but I can't help but notice that while that maxim mentions "others," this one emphatically doesn't. I guess it goes without saying that while we are called to hold ourselves to a strict standard, it's not fair to expect the same of others. We don't know what burdens they bear or what unseen standards they've already imposed on themselves.

Blessings for a fruitful conclusion to the Fast! Please pray for me.


jocelyn said...

You couldn't have summed it up more beautifully, Emily.

It's so easy for me to rationalize giving myself a treat or making things easier for myself, or making an excuse. I'm not all that strict with myself, and it's so satisfying (in a bad way) to point fingers at others as a way of justifying my lax standards.

Anonymous said...

I'm with jocelyn on that, I needed this. Thank you for the encouragement to stop following that "voice" and to start working. Turning off the internet, returning sundry treats to the library, going to try to cut down on snacking whilst studying - oh the decadance some of us let ourselves in for. You said it and well. Why make myself suffer from this yucky procrastination feeling a minute longer? I hate this!

The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.