Tuesday, April 7, 2009

37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.

From Carla in Southern California:

When I learned that I'd been assigned this maxim, I shuddered. "Oh, no," I thought, "what terrible temptations are going to come to me during Lent?!"

As I pondered this, I realized that I am already being fiercely tempted every day of my life...

It's just that I don't see it most of the time. I walk through life thinking that I am a pretty nice person, a "good Christian" who tries very hard to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right place, for the right reason. Something is wrong here. If I am not recognizing the temptations, I easily fall prey to them. Just the mere recognition of these temptations each day is helpful in overcoming them--not so that I can "do the right thing", but so I can draw near to God and humbly cry out to Him to help me.

The real problem is that I am making all of this effort pretty much "on my own" apart from the true humility of realizing that I cannot "be good" and "do the right thing" on my own, without the mercy and grace of God working in me. In fact, if I am not abiding in Him and if He is not abiding in me, I cannot bear any good fruit whatsoever. It's all sour fruit, or rotten fruit, not worth the effort to even harvest.

I am being tempted fiercely every day...to be prideful, self-righteous, selfish, lazy, depressed, judging, unkind, greedy and idolatrous (yes, I desire things of this world and personal satisfaction more than God). As I pray the St Ephriam Prayer each day during Lent, I am identifying with all of the things he asks God to take away. I consider the fact that I can finally see this as progress, and it feels good to my soul. I always knew somewhere deep inside that all the outward veneer of "goodness" was not the truth, and it is satisfying to be able to finally see a glimpse of "the real me" so that I can avail myself of confession, forgiveness, and transformation by the love and mercy of Christ.

Another way in which I am continually being fiercely tempted every day is to fill my heart and mind (nous) with clutter and all manner of thoughts--ranging from great ideas, things to do, to worries over this and that and the other thing...and yes, unfortunately, judgments, proud thoughts, and covetous thoughts.

I'm thankful that this Maxim came to me. I have spent most of my life unaware that this has been such a lifetime habit. I let all manner of things crowd out the presence of God, thankfulness and worship. Even as I was praying this morning, I realized how quickly these thoughts come to me -- before I can even say one Jesus prayer the thoughts come barging in...even before I finish one small prayer the thoughts interrupt my concentration. What I realized this morning is that this temptation is incessant and continual, not just in my prayer time, but throughout the day and even in my sleep!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if instead of the cares of this world and prideful and judging thoughts, our hearts and minds were continually filled with thanksgiving, praise and the simple quiet presence of Christ? What if that kind of prayer "interrupted" my other thoughts, overtaking them? I 'm sure I will not be able to attain to this in my lifetime, but that is what I desire. I feel tempted now to say to myself, "Okay, Carla, you can do this. Just try real hard." But that would be just giving in to the temptation to trust in myself -- I already have figured out that that is a fruitless effort. So, I cast myself on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, asking for His help and mercy. Pray for me.


Mimi said...

Wow. What a fantastic reflection on this maxim, Carla. Thank you.

Debbie said...

I used to think that with enough striving I would reach a plateau, of sorts, where good Christians live. And if only I could live in this plateau, temptations would be more or less conquered. The more I grow up the more I realize how contrary this is to reality.

I love the word "fiercely." More necessity for God's fiercer mercy.

Doanh (Fevronia) said...

It's a relief knowing that I will be fiercely tempted to my last breath. That means I don't have to wonder "what's wrong" when I'm being tempted.

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.