“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
It’s not unusual for me to wake up before 6:00 am and tiptoe down to this desk, in the dark. I sit and sit, and write a little. I try and punctuate my days here, by pondering faith, love and all that is still very holy about this world (lest I forget), until the house comes alive and this space of quiet meditation becomes a hub of familial action.
Here is where spelling lists are reviewed and permission slips signed. Here is where I turn when someone asks, “Are you free on Thursday?” Our calendar hangs to the left of the central computer; to the right of it is a huge file cabinet with four drawers – one for each Sabourin kid. I spontaneously pray at this desk, near ceaselessly, for patience, gratitude and guidance.
I’ve been talking with my oldest about work. He likes to write, short stories, screenplays, graphic novels, and he’s good at it. What he wrestles with, however, like most people his age, or any age, is dogged persistence. It’s hard to compete these days with the attention luring devices keeping our minds all addicted to being stimulated and entertained. Boredom and stillness become the enemy, then, rather than the fertile ground for creativity and reflection they truly are – if only we’d get past our fear of them.
“You get this one life,” I told my son, “to either seize or squander.” The narrow path is hard, so very, very challenging, and humbling, but leads to salvation, which is the opposite of numbness, pettiness, slothfulness, gaudiness and joylessness. Go on and get your hands dirty, your brow sweaty, son, unearthing the beauty and enlightenment that lies deep beneath the surface!
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
- Stephen King
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Our washing machine died and thus I find myself on this fine Tuesday morning at the laundromat with five overflowing baskets of dirty clothes and twenty dollars worth of quarters. I’ve been putting this huge chore off, of course, there being at least forty other ways I’d rather be spending my time, but now things have gotten desperate in the undergarment department and I’m having to bite the bullet and take care of what needs to get done.
Avoidance, of that which is difficult, demanding, tedious, awkward, etc., is a vice I’ve struggled with for decades, beginning in high school and college with assignments too large to complete in one sitting. I was pretty awful at disciplining myself to work steadily on a project, breaking it down into manageable sections, days or weeks in advance of its due date. Invite me to dinner or a movie and I’d most likely say yes in a heartbeat, justifying my spontaneous outing with a, “Later! I can get it done later.” I pulled many an unnecessary all-nighter back in the day.
More recently, this habitual avoidance has manifested itself by way of me finding any and everything to look up on-line in lieu of facing a messy house, or any overwhelming undertaking, head on. I’m also good at finding errands to run as a means of procrastination.
I certainly never felt great about this side of myself, but lacked the wherewithal to wage an assault on my addictions to all things easy-squeezy. It’s that small rush, you know, of escaping labor momentarily that’s kept me coming back for more – that rush that fades all too quickly into frustration when that job is still waiting for me when I return, only now bigger and more oppressive than before.
My own kids are reaching that stage where their school responsibilities are starting to increase quite a bit. Just last week, my oldest daughter had a research paper she’d not at all been looking forward to writing; I could see her squirming under the weight of it. Finally, after a fair amount of putzing around, she sat down at the desk in our family room and started typing. Troy and I helped her out here and there with organizing content, and with grammar, but the vast majority of that paper was on her 11-year-old shoulders.
Bless her heart, she stuck with it (better than I would have at her age), declaring upon completing her assignment that the thought, the dread, of writing of it had been way worse than actually doing it. Isn’t that the truth! I agreed with her, smiling at her obvious thrill at having discovered that truth on her own. I want to be for her, for all my children, a living verification of that truth – an example of industriousness and perseverance.
Do the most difficult and painful thing first, is #27 of Father Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living. On a practical and emotional level, this makes sense in that getting straight to tackling the hardest parts of our daily agendas not only results in increased productivity but also frees us from the guilt and yuck of having those most arduous tasks hanging menacingly over our heads. But how is procrastination also a spiritual issue? I’ve been chewing on this the last few days, thinking about how having a strong work ethic, unaffected by my whims and impulses, might benefit my soul. Here are a few of the conclusions I’ve arrived at thus far:
1. Often times, that “most difficult and painful thing” is prayer.
If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself, wrote Ambros of Optina. The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. You do not want to, but force yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force (Matt. 11:12). Now I will be the first one to vouch for the fact that prayer is not easy. I will also confirm, however, that it is absolutely essential for any kind of sustained peace or wisdom. As Christians we are to deny ourselves and carry our crosses, which requires obedience, endurance, and sticktoitiveness. Developing a stamina that overpowers fickleness and caprice would only strengthen my resolve to quiet my vain preoccupations and seek first the Kingdom of God.
2. Doing the most difficult and painful thing first requires Christ’s intervention.
Nine times out of ten, I fear and delay the difficult things because they’re more than I, alone, can bear. The difficult and painful things make most obvious my need for mercy and HELP! Free-falling submissively in faith into a challenge wider, deeper, higher than I think I can handle is, yes, terrifying, but also stimulates all kinds of salvific growth. Acknowledging our weaknesses and proceeding despite them, with our eyes all glued on Christ, allows for miracles to take place – for God to be given the glory via our witness of His faithfulness. Cast yourselves in the arms of God, wrote Philip Neri, and be sure that if he wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.”
3. Selfless Love is most difficult and painful.
The parable of the Good Samaritan really hammers this point home. If he is the model Jesus set before us of how to love and serve our neighbor, than we better darn well expect our schedules to be interrupted, our patience to be tested, our lust for money and material possessions challenged. The muscle of selflessness must be exercised everyday, by my choosing to give my all to pesky mundane chores until their completion, if I ever hope to respond reflexively with selfless love when confronted by a neighbor in need. I must work and work and ever work at dying to my distain for being uncomfortable and inconvenienced.
Now what I’m usually wont to do when all fired up about a new conviction, is try and bulldoze my way through reality by making ridiculous and sweeping “I’m turning over a new leaf once and for all!” declarations. This totally misses the point, of course, by having me trust in my own quite limited capabilities rather than ceaselessly imploring Christ for assistance. I’m not overzealously leaping ahead here, just humbly inching forward, trying to be consistent with tiny changes that they might add to up to bigger changes that will bless me, my family and my community over time.
And what’s my first plan of action? To pray for the self-control to put my piles of now clean and folded laundry away without pausing every five minutes to check my e-mail. From there, who knows? I will prayerfully cross each bridge when I come to it.
Into your hands, O Lord Jesus Christ, I commend my spirit, my body, my noisy urges and idleness, bless me, save me and grant me eternal life. Amen
To those of you who attended the women’s retreat at St. Joseph Antiochian Church in Houston, TX on Saturday, I want to say thank you. Thank you for your kindness, your openness and honesty, and your sweet Southern hospitality. I’m still pondering much of what we discussed as women and mothers about faith, family and community. How important it is to remind one another of what is most worth our efforts, and of what time-wasting preoccupations to let go of!
I came away inspired to procrastinate less, beat myself up less, and do more:
- more serving and loving my neighbor, the best I can, and with what I’ve got
– more responding to quiet prompts from the Holy Spirit to make that phone call, send that note, prepare and deliver that meal, smile at that cashier…
“Cowardice and time always find a reason for not hurrying, for saying, ‘Not today, but tomorrow, whereas God in heaven and the eternal say: Do it today. Now is the day of Salvation.”
- Soren Kirkegaard
I am home, and back in the thick of things. Beside me at my desk are Fr. Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian living. We went over them this weekend and then I remembered all over again how crazy insightful they are:
- Be always with Christ.
- Pray as you can, not as you want.
- Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
- Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
- Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
- Make some prostrations when you pray.
- Eat good foods in moderation.
- Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
- Spend some time in silence every day.
- Do acts of mercy in secret.
- Go to liturgical services regularly
- Go to confession and communion regularly.
- Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
- Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
- Read the scriptures regularly.
- Read good books a little at a time.
- Cultivate communion with the saints.
- Be an ordinary person.
- Be polite with everyone.
- Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
- Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
- Exercise regularly.
- Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
- Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
- Be faithful in little things.
- Do your work, and then forget it.
- Do the most difficult and painful things first.
- Face reality.
- Be grateful in all things.
- Be cheeful.
- Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
- Never bring attention to yourself.
- Listen when people talk to you.
- Be awake and be attentive.
- Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
- When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
- Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
- Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
- Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
- Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
- Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
- We don’t judge anyone for anything.
- Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
- Don’t defend or justify yourself.
- Be defined and bound by God alone.
- Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
- Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
- Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
- Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
- Be merciful with yourself and with others.
- Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
- Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
- Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
- When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
- Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.
It’s been too long since I last meditated on their collective, thought and action provoking, wisdom. I’d like to revisit these 55 maxims here on my Close to Home blog – not in any particular order, and not with the intention of somehow “mastering” this list; no, an “all or nothing” approach will do me no good whatsoever. Rather, little by little, I’d like to incrementally add to my daily life more healing habits, to replace the anxiety and numbness inducing habits I’ve allowed to creep in unintentionally. I’d love for you to join me, and to hear (read) your own thoughts on, and experiences with, courageously sucking the marrow out of your existence.
“I’ve caught belief like a disease.
I’ve fallen into belief like I fell in love.”
I saw an article on-line recently stating some scientists are hopeful they’ll soon eliminate the need for a “god-theory” by answering all the questions relating to the origin of our being with scientific facts. Few headlines surprise me anymore, sadly enough, but this one gave me pause. Not because disbelief is the direction we seem to be racing towards globally, but rather due to the tragic assumption that faith in God is something intellectual – disprovable.
What evidence lead me to embrace a virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, guardian angels, Christ consumable in the Eucharist, and the unconditional mercy of God – despite the glaring shortcomings of His all too human followers (myself included)?
Only the, wholly unconfirmable via logic, assuaged yearnings of my starving soul.
And it is hardly my job to convince anyone of that which transcends earthly reasonings, but love you and serve you, without stipulations, I absolute must (as Jesus did) until I die; this is non-negotiable.
I was empty and now I have access to fullness.
Make of it what you will.
My mind’s been blown, my pride obliterated…
I am in this for the long haul – come what may.
“Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from the faith.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My brother heard music coming from their basement the other day and when he went down to investigate, he found my son dancing his heart out all by his lonesome. This is exactly why, despite the irrefutable fact he leaves a trail of havoc behind him wherever he goes, I have a soft spot in my mama gut for that kid.
On this cloudy Tuesday morning, while the rest of us grunted at each other and shuffled sleepily to our closets and bathrooms, he woke up sprightly, and singing. “I had the best dream ever,” he told me.
I wish I could crawl into his head sometimes and take a peek of the world through his big hazel eyes. Would it be neon bright? Animated? Magical like Narnia? Less cynical, calloused, hostile?
There’s so much I want for my children: health, discipline, strong relationships, perseverance…but perhaps most of all, inextinguishable and unashamed hope in love, mercy, redemption, the Resurrection – no matter what they encounter.
And my sons and daughters are looking to me to either confirm or deny with my words and actions that life is salvifically and mysteriously beautiful, eternally good. They are one powerful motivation to keep on fighting till my last and final breath for little victory after little victory over arrogance, selfishness and despair.
Remember, never to fear the power of evil more than you trust in the power and love of God.
—Hermas, one of the Seventy