From Charissa in New York:
There seems to be two ways to think of this brief idea of facing reality: the big picture and the little.
First, the big picture is obvious. We must face the reality that we are human beings not made for this world, but the world to come. And in this obvious reality lies the question of how to deal with the daily world we encounter. What can we do of it? The reality is that we are going to die relatively soon, if not today, then sometime in the future. We can not control this, nor forestall it more than God permits; however, we may with some effort have the opportunity to perceive our life clearly, if but for moments here and there.
Most often it is difficult for me to believe that everything does matter. I sometimes think that all I do is cook food, take people places and clean dishes (I don’t even do the majority of the dishes.), but really, if done well, this daily work may be enough.
Beyond my religious life, I have to always remind myself that sitting and reading to my kids, volunteering, taking care of the house and yard, going to the beach (yes, providing for them some beauty and fun!) is important and the reality that I face each moment. I am so quick to yell, criticize and judge them and my whole family, all the time knowing that the words that fly from my lips may be my last to them. But do I really believe, that it will be the last word? No, I don’t. I envision each evening with a morning to come and an evening to follow.
Death surely is the reality that we must face, but how to walk through this world and be able to manage these thoughts? With my children and all those around me, I have to put the reality of our short time together aside and see that the present moment is the one that is important. This single breath that I take with them together is sublime, and is all that I really have. Each moment in time is real and has meaning as much meaning as any other great moment there possibly can be. I try to remind myself to slow down and not participate in the hysteria of success that drives this world. And I try to slow down in prayer.
Recently I have been saying “The Canon for the Sick” for a loved one. In the 8th Ode the Theotokion reads:
Deliver us, we beseech thee, O Mother of God, from the sorrows which surround us, from adversities and afflictions, from all sorts of infirmities, from poison and sorcery, from demonic delusion, the incantations of evil men and from sudden death.
Every time I say this stanza I feel that it has been directly written for me, as if someone knew that I would be reading it often and that I would need to read this line out-loud to myself frequently. How did he know? How did someone know that I would be so filled with fantasy about my life so much so that while pondering my brother’s illness, I would still not truly believe, I too, will die relatively soon, even if in another 10, 25, or 60 years?
I am easily derailed in prayer and willingly focus on things that never materialize. Choosing to focus on the non-reality around me, from the unspoken words of things that I think people may feel, to the worry of things that haven’t happened, to the endless stories through entertainment I eagerly seek and let flow into my eyes and ears are all ways of not facing reality. The ultimate reality is that we are going to die and we need to live with Christ in our hearts living each moment as the gift it is. The subterfuge that I put upon myself absorbs and takes away the simple moments of life. Instead perceiving the subtle beauty of each situation, a tremendous amount of mental energy is wasted. It would be better to exert it in prayer, physical work, or even in something that is a joy for my children and husband. I pray that I remember this, today and tomorrow.
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.