For three nights in a row, we watched the children and ourselves age at the speed of light on our television screen. First birthdays, second birthdays, third then fourth, crawling then walking, squeaking then speaking, babies then toddlers, then small boys and girls – it was dizzying and a bit gut wrenching to witness such large chunks of time being whittled down into highlights and snippets, reduced to slivers. “Wouldn’t it be awesome,” asked Elijah, after our marathon viewing of old family videos, “to be able to see every part of our lives all over again?” And immediately I thought of my teenage years, my early twenties, how I reacted last week to a string of certainly aggravating but hardly earth-shattering disappointments and I shuddered at the idea of being forced to observe repeatedly my past foolishness and folly. Thank goodness for fresh starts and new beginnings.
We have mornings, Sundays, apologies and the 1st of January: all shiny, un-scuffed, perfectly promising opportunities to dust oneself off and begin anew. It is best, in my humble opinion, to go ahead and try your darndest to seize all of them. What could be wiser or more productive than grasping at these lifelines, these dependable and consistent breaks in our harried and hectic schedules fraught with potential? Why not revel in the mercifulness of free-will and forgiveness by choosing active, eager faith over immobility - over wallowing in self-pity or determined ignorance?
Now resolutions of any kind require forethought and a game plan; two things I, in general, have great difficulty conjuring up from out of a mind whose default setting is stuck on “ramble.” Perhaps by sharing publicly, officially with you all my 2009 aspirations, I’ll become more focused. So drum roll please, and hold onto your hats; what I’m proposing here is especially grand. For the next twelve months and (Lord-willing) beyond, I would like to fully dedicate myself to the process, the sacred, mental and emotional art, of absorption.
H-m-m? What’s that you say? You need more clarification? O.K. then, let me try here to explain. You see quite often when life gets challenging, as is its very nature to do so, I respond by tensing up, gritting my teeth, closing my ears and my eyes in protest to the injustice, the sheer terror of it all. When you’ve worked so hard and diligently at manipulating…I mean, maneuvering your every situation until they all line up neatly with possibly fine, probably decent, but nevertheless your own ideals, only to watch on dumbfounded as tragedy or inconvenience bowl them over, it is instinctive to stomp your feet and declare authoritatively that that is NOT FAIR! It is tempting at that point to see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing but the blackness, the silence, the painful sting of your grave disenchantment.
I know this because I do this, sometimes out of bitterness and sometimes out of straight-up fear. It is scary – let me say that again, SCARY, to uncurl your vulnerable soul from its hard as metal ball of self-protection. I don’t want to learn from this! I don’t want to be stretched any further! And yet…and yet (Lord have mercy!), I kind of do. It is that exact tension, that violent back and forth between a desire for eternal and then earthly and then eternal again treasures, that wears me thin and leaves me spiritually discombobulated. I can’t straddle this and that, here and there, now and later, and honestly expect to make any progress, to move ahead. It is all or nothing, backwards or forwards. It is totally up to me to either keep my eyes locked in on Jesus or to gape open-mouthed at the waves licking my shins and dousing my plans. I can either take God at His word or panic.
I am realizing as I get older and as my love spreads wider and thicker, grows deep as tree roots in individuals whose mortality lies outside of my control and jurisdiction, that the risks of staying engaged in the lives of those you absolutely and unequivocally adore, are breath-takingly great. I’ve found that jobs get lost, pregnancies miscarry, health is fragile and that death eludes no one. My face is becoming wrinkled from so much wincing. So rather than construct a paper castle for myself only to then spend my energy on dreading the rain, the wind, or the bullies who could so easily knock it down, I’d like to stop for awhile the ambitious scheming, the “I can almost taste it” day dreaming that keeps me distracted from my salvation and the gifts right in front of me. I’d like to quiet my thoughts and phobias, simply “Be” in the presence of my Savior, and replace my impermeableness with a responsive and porous spirit prepared to soak in all of the encounters, whether joyful or taxing, satisfying or sorrowful, divinely designed to rescue each one of us from the lulling effects, the numbing effects, of the tepidness inherent in comfort and material satiation.
When tested by some trial, wrote St. Mark the Ascetic in the Philokalia, you should try to find out not why or through whom it came, but only how to endure it gratefully, without distress or rancor. That right there, my friends, is enough of a challenge to keep me prayerfully occupied for a good long time. That right there is a New Year goal, an every morning goal, a minute-to-minute goal, far superior and far, far more fulfilling than objectives too thin and shallow for supporting the unrealistic expectations we tend to want to heap upon them in lieu of surrendering our most intimate of longings to Christ.
Be anxious for nothing, wrote Saint Paul to the Philippians, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Yes, it is incomprehensible and harder than anything to stomach much less believe unwaveringly, that it is suffering and trials which bring about illogical peace, peace immune to whatever crazy circumstances life may throw at us. I am trusting here that dogged vigilance will be the key to achieving temperance and an outlook viewing adversity as a tool rather than a hindrance. I am trusting that this year, this day, this minute, there will be plenty of chances for strengthening my resolve to bristle less and comply more -to shift my knee-jerk response to irritation from one of, Come on! You have got to be kidding me! to: Thy Will – Thy Perfect Will Be Done.