Saturday, March 14, 2009

13. Face reality.

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.

Friday, March 13, 2009

12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.

From Janet in Baltimore:

Ironically, explaining this maxim is difficult for me. Although I’ve pondered its meaning since it was assigned to me, I have procrastinated writing about it, with the excuse that I lacked insights on what to say.

What is the wisdom in this maxim? Often, the most difficult things are the most important things to do and shouldn’t be put off. In this case, writing about this maxim is one of the most important things I can do today!

Delay can make a difficult task even harder and can make a problem worse by piling up the issues. Delay prolongs the dread of what I know I need to do. For example, the apology that I need to make becomes more awkward the longer I wait, and ignoring it magnifies the pain for me and for the person I’ve hurt.

I need to prioritize what seems difficult, before my energy and time are spent (whether it’s this writing or daily prayers or a 5-mile run). The result is a better outcome than waiting till I’m too tired, stressed, or rushed to finish things later in the day.

Facing challenges without hesitation demonstrates our faith in God to provide strength. We have the examples of Christ and the Holy Fathers’ lives to inspire us to deal with issues right away. As we tackle right away the painful or difficult chores with God’s help, we can experience the joy of witnessing His power to surmount life’s trials!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

11. Do your work, then forget it.

From Zenaida in Baltimore:

All of us have ‘work’ to do – from the infant who struggles to grow into a toddler to the elderly person who struggles to end earthly life with grace. The work known as “labor” is given by God to humankind as a result of the Fall. It is partly through our work that we struggle to live our lives in repentance and holiness as we journey toward our eternal life. So, “work” is important. We are called to offer it to God. And, it can be a powerful means of intercession.

However, once it is done, it is important that we forget it. We are to think no more about it. The main reason for this is that we are called continually to live in the PRESENT MOMENT. We are not to dwell on the past. In regard to work, we are not to carry it with us after it is accomplished. We are not to ‘bring it home’ to our mind, heart, soul, or spirit. We are not to worry about it or be proud of it. “We are unprofitable servants.” We have simply done that which it is our duty to do.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

10. Be faithful in little things.

From Melanie in Baltimore:

Dear friends,

I wanted to share with you all my list of five little things that I can do to strengthen my faith.

1. Wear my prayer rope to work daily.
2. Say a quick prayer before eating when out with friends.
3. Smile at everyone (at least once) on days when I am especially sad or unhappy.
4. Take a few minutes of quiet time out of the day to reflect on the good things that happened.
5. Once a week, find a way to be a good example of the Orthodox Church to someone.

They're little things that I can be doing during the week. It's so easy to be faithful in big ways. Saying a prayer when we are able to safely climb out of our car after an accident. Thanking God for a much needed raise during economic hardship. These things are large, almost game-changing events in our lives. But what about those small things? Is it too much to ask to be faithful in small ways as well as large ways? Can't these small things also change our lives?

Two weeks ago I had a student ask me about my prayer rope that I have been wearing every day for the past six months. It gave me an opportunity to share. I told him that it was a gift from the priest at our church and that he had brought it back from Greece. I also told him that the monk that made the prayer rope requested that the person wearing it would pray for his mother, Dorothy. It's the same name as my mother-in-law and her mom before her. I told him that I wore it so that when I'm typing, eating lunch, teaching at the board or rolling up my sleeves, I have a reminder of the type of person I'm supposed to be.

Let it be known that it is hard to be faithful in these little things. It is easy to ask for God's help when we are facing the big things that we know that we can't handle ourselves. Some days, I feel embarrassed to wear my prayer rope or worry about what others think. But, in being able to conquer these little things, I find the strength to conquer the larger things. I find the strength because, by being faithful in the little things, I remind myself that God is in control.

If you feel inclined, I would ask that you share five little things that you can do to strengthen your faith, in the hopes that others will feel encouraged and lifted up in prayer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.

From Debbie in San Francisco:

This should be easy. I support honesty. I really hate it when people aren't honest with me, especially when they tell me a partial truth, the part that supports their angle.

So, what's to learn from this maxim? I think I am honest, more or less.

But this saying kept tapping on the back wall of my mind, from the time that I first considered it. I want to be honest, I really do. But how do I know if I am being honest with myself? Scripture tells us, "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

If you're not being honest with yourself, you may not realize it, because you live in self-perpetuated denial. It's a vicious cycle, until the lie that you tell yourself trips up on reality in such a way that you can no longer ignore it. As we allow our hearts to be examined, we must start by acknowledging our blindness and beg God to shine his light on the dishonesties in our hearts. For myself, that's where I'll start.

As I've been asking God to show me how to be honest with myself, I've become more and more uncomfortable with a recurring area of failure, or blindness. I realize that I can't fix it up myself, because I don't have the wisdom to see what's going wrong. So, I've decided to use this area to continually submit to God, to ask for his truth and mercy. I pray that He will show me His path through what feels like a quandary, during this Lent.

I think that being honest with yourself is kind of like realizing that you must start with where you are and not jump over it. It may sound easy, but it can very uncomfortable.

Monday, March 9, 2009

8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.

This is one of the empty spots, so I thought I would re-post what I did last year. This is a wonderful excerpt from one of Tolstoy's short stories, which I've always loved, but is especially meaningful ever since Bishop Kallistos Ware referred to it in a homily.

"Remember that there is only one important time and that is Now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future. The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at you side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life."

It's said so often that it sounds meaningless, but try to see it in a new light: every day is a gift, and even every part of every day, as this Maxim reminds us. Or, as Christ said: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself."

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.