From Mimi in Seattle:
When I read this maxim, my first thought was a quote from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers* “The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius' goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, 'We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.' (1Tim.6.7) 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' (Job 1.21).
While I consider that we shouldn’t be attached to our possessions, and to let them own us, I realized upon later reflection this maxim is warning us against justifying ourselves. We always want to tell the story, as if somehow we miss the mark less if we have a good reason. When the pit of my stomach reminds me that I have done something wrong, it is easy for me to fall into this trap. Justification leads to rationalization.
I am pretty sure that my defense at the Dread Judgment Seat of Christ does NOT start with “so-and-so did it first” or the even more judgmental “well, they did THIS”. When I pick up my sin and examine it, the measuring stick isn’t what others have done, but what I have done. I recently read that St. Isaac the Syrian said, “A man who is truly humble is not troubled when he is wronged at he says nothing to justify himself against the injustice but accepts slander as truth.” This maxim reminds us that our actions aren’t for how other people see us, but how we are seen by God. When we learn to stop justifying ourselves we learn to accept responsibility.
I have far to go on applying this maxim to my life.
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.