A stirring conclusion to this collection of meditations, from Allison in DC. Many thanks to all of you who have posted, commented, read and absorbed these words!
When I learned that this last Maxim had fallen to me, I had to smile at the appropriateness of the match. (Not an uncommon occurrence, as I’ve noticed from previous posts!) Having recently emerged from the most intense experience of my life – a complicated labor, c-section and the incredible gift of my baby girl – I was still keenly aware of what it feels like to need help, and to need it desperately. In a society that grasps clutchingly at youth, that veritably worships vigor, mobility, and – above all – independence, finding oneself suddenly and absolutely dependent on others can be like a slap of cold water in the face. It was for me.
That experience taught me many, many things, but the one most pertinent to this Maxim is that the Lord tenderly cares for His children, and He desires us to tenderly care for one another. When we ask for help, both from our gracious God and from those around us, we should do so without fear or shame. This begs two questions: Why do we fear? Why do we feel shame? In meditating on my own journey, I believe that fear is the result of lack of trust, trust being the basis of any loving relationship: “Perfect love drives out fear.” If I perfectly and completely trust the one whom I have called to my aid, I will not fear abandonment. At the same time, complete trust often doesn’t manifest until we have come to the “end of our rope”, so to speak. It is when we finally realize that, “No, I can’t do this on my own. In fact, I can’t do this at all.”
And shame – in this context – is the offspring of that many-headed monster, pride. Why should I feel shame when relying on someone to help me walk, bathe, get out of bed? Because my pride is shouting that I should be able to do this on my own. I shouldn’t need help. Help is for the weak.
But the consistent message of the Gospel is the audacious blessedness of the weak and lowly. Jesus points to a little child and tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these. He is the Good Shepherd, and in the icon on my shelf, He has a fragile, snowy lamb draped over His shoulders, its spindly legs grasped gently in His nail-scarred hands. We are the lamb.
A lamb doesn’t fear, because he knows that his only hope is in the Shepherd. A lamb has no shameA lamb has no shame, because humility, not pride, reigns within.
At the same time, we are to imitate the Shepherd, and help carry our fellow believers. During the season of my recovery, I felt a special kinship with the elderly and infirm. For a few brief weeks, I tasted what for many is a daily reality. The Lord convicted me of my breezy indifference to others’ suffering, and I now strive to show much more compassion and deference to those whom our society has marginalized. May God help me.
May He help each of us, as we close our Lenten journey and enter into the joy of His Holy Pascha.
Friday, April 10, 2009
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.