Thursday, November 28, 2013

What I Am Thankful For

What I am most thankful for today are my problems.  I guess today I realized that if it weren't for my problems, I wouldn't be so close to God.  I mean the sins and wrong ways of thinking and acting that I've dealt with my whole life.  The things about me that make me feel like shit when I reflect on myself, are the very things that have forced me to cling to God, to my only aid; the things that make my emptiness and nothingness so apparent to me that I can't do anything but run to fill myself with Him.

I think about what my life would be like if I didn't have the struggles that I do.  I used to always think, wow, life would be so much better, I would be such a better person.  But I don't know if I would have the relationship with God that I have now, and it is only that that makes me who I am.

Today, I thank God for my crappiness, and for Him bringing me closer to Him by means of them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Timeless Tale

I'm someone who is really prone to despair and depression, which is to say that I very easily lose sight of God and prefer to look inward at my weakness rather than upward at His strength. When I'm at my worst, I pick up The Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius. Needless to say, this is one of the few books that has drastically changed my life and the way I understand things, and it cannot be re-read enough times. I honestly have no idea why, but reading the life of such a saintly being just brings my spirits up to heaven like no other. I read it for the first time six years ago. I have found no other remedy for my depressive tendencies.

There is one account in particular that always has the same effect on me every time I read it. It is a story of one of his many encounters with the devil, and when I read it, no matter what state of despair I am in, it all fades away. It is as if his love and faith in God are so unshakable that in a moment, he can carry ten thousand weak spirits like my own on his shoulders and bring all of us up toward the love of Christ.

This account is the exact antithesis of self-obsession and despair:
Girding himself in this way, Antony went out to the tombs that were situated some distance from the village. He charged one of his friends to supply him periodically with bread, and he entered one of the tombs and remained alone within, his friend having closed the door on him. When the enemy could stand it no longer--for he was apprehensive that Antony might before long fill the desert with the discipline--approaching one night with a multitude of demons he whipped him with such force that he lay on the earth, speechless from the tortures. He contended that the pains were so severe as to lead one to say that the blows could not have been delivered by humans, since they caused such agony. But by God's providence (for the Lord does not overlook those who place their hope in him), the friend came the next day bringing him the loaves. Opening the door and seeing him lying, as if dead, on the ground, he picked him up and carried him to the Lord's house in the village, and laid him on earth. And many of his relatives and the people of the village stationed themselves by Antony as beside a corpse. But around midnight, coming to his senses and wakening, Antony, as he saw everyone sleeping, and only his friend keeping the watch, beckoned to him and asked him to lift him again and carry him to the tombs, waking no one. 
So he was taken back there by the man and, as before, the door was closed. Again he was alone inside. Because of the blows he was not strong enough to stand, but he prayed while lying down. And after the prayer he yelled out: "Here I am--Antony! I do not run from your blows, for even if you give me more, nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ." Then he also sang, "Though an army should set itself in array against me, my heart shall not be afraid." These things, then, the ascetic thought and spoke, but the enemy who despises good, astonished that even after the blows he had received he dared to return, summoned his dogs and said, exploding with rage, "You see that we failed to stop this man with a spirit of fornication or with lashes. Far from it--he is even insolent to us. Let us approach him in another way." Now schemes for working evil come easily to the devil, so when it was nighttime, they made such a crashing noise that that whole place seemed to be shaken by a quake. The demons, as if breaking through the building's four walls, and seeming to enter through them, were changed into the forms of beasts and reptiles. The place immediately was filled with appearances of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, and serpents, asps, scorpions, wolves, and each of these moved in accordance with its form. The lion roared, wanting to spring at him; the bull seemed intent on goring; the creeping snake did not quite reach him; the onrushing wolf made straight for him--and altogether the sounds of all the creatures that appeared were terrible, and their ragings were fierce. Struck and wounded by them, Antony's body was subject to yet more pain. But unmoved and even more watchful in his soul he lay there, and he groaned because of the pain felt in his body, but being in control of his thoughts and as if mocking them, he said: "If there were some power among you, it would have been enough for only one of you to come. But since the Lord has broken your strength, you attempt to terrify me by any means with the mob; it is a mark of your weakness that you mimic the shapes of irrational beasts." And again with boldness he said, "If you are able, and you did receive authority over me, don't hold back, but attack. But if you are unable, why, when it is vain, do you disturb me? For faith in our Lord is for us a seal and a wall of protection." So after trying many strategies, they gnashed their teeth because of him, for they made fools not of him, but of themselves. 
In this circumstance also the Lord did not forget the wrestling of Antony, but came to his aid. For when he looked up he saw the roof being opened, as it seemed, and a certain beam of light descending toward him. Suddenly the demons vanished from view, the pain of his body ceased instantly, and the building was once more intact. Aware of the assistance and both breathing more easily and relieved from the sufferings, Antony entreated the vision that appeared, saying, "Where were you? Why didn't you appear in the beginning, so that you could stop my distresses?" And a voice came to him: "I was here, Antony, but I waited to watch your struggle. And now, since you persevered and were not defeated, I will be your helper forever, and I will make you famous everywhere." On hearing this, he stood up and prayed, and he was so strengthened that he felt that his body contained more might than before. And he was about thirty-five years old at that time.

The entire book is extremely short, 94 paragraphs in all, and extremely readable. St. Athanasius was a brilliant writer and biographer.

The Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius can be read online or downloaded as a pdf from here:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Seeing Christ in Pop Culture

Samuel Kaldas, a philosophy and history dual major at the University of Sydney, and one of my favorite Coptic bloggers, wrote an excellent 3-part series on being able to see Christ in the secular world, even in secular songs and movies.  Below I will provide some of my favorite excerpts from the series.  The link to the original series on his blog is at the bottom.

Part 1: "What do the church fathers say?"
Sam, of course, roots his opinion in the thought of the early church fathers. In part 1, he gives an overview of what various champions of our faith have to say about reading and quoting secular authors. At the end, he also gives links to their original writings on this issue. Some excerpts from part 1:
For the fathers, the Scriptures were the only source of full and complete knowledge about God’s salvation (as far as that knowledge is expressible in human language). But they also believed that God’s grace and truth flowed out upon the whole world, and that righteous pagans had apprehended the truth of Christ partially and incompletely. 
For St. Basil (as for St. Clement), the pagan writers can be a helpful and godly source of spiritual instruction, so long as they are always perceived as imperfect mirrors of the truths contained fully in the Scriptures 
For St. Justin Martyr, the goodness which the pagan authors apprehended was none other than Christ Himself (for what other source of goodness is there?): “… whatever either lawgivers or philosophers uttered well, they elaborated by finding and contemplating some part of the Word. 
St. Clement says, “I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that, from geometry, and music, and grammar, and philosophy itself, culling what is useful, he guards the faith against assault.” (Stromata 1.9) Seeing Christ in all things is a powerful testimony to the robustness and universality of Christ; a worthy work of praise and instruction for any believers who choose to undertake it. 
In short then, the attitude to secular literature found in the fathers discussed above is this:
1 – Because God’s grace fills the whole world, secular literature reflects (imperfectly) the truths held by the Church.
2 – Those who are able are not only permitted, but encouraged, to study secular works and draw out the divine truths therein as a sort of ‘practice’ for learning and living the truths of Scripture.
Part 2: "Why should servants bother?"
Even though we know the church fathers' approved of seeing Christ in the works of secular writers, why should we bother trying to analyze when we already have the Scriptures? Sam addresses this concern in part 2. Some excerpts:
One of the most important reasons is for the work of evangelism. It would be a mistake to think that the only proper targets for evangelism are people outside the Church. Evangelism means taking the Gospel to places where it is not, and that is something which we often have to do among cradle Orthodox as well as to non-Christians. No-one is ‘born Christian.’ It’s not hard to tell that we are losing large numbers of youth who grew up as churchgoing children ... at least part of the problem is that there is a disconnect between Western youth culture and the culture prevalent in immigrant Orthodox Churches. ... The use of secular culture is an important part of breaking down cultural barriers in evangelism. 
St. Paul became a Greek to the Greeks; I think we should become youth to the youth. Part of that process is finding the reflections of Christ which already exist in their world, and identifying them with Christ.
Part 3: "The One whom you worship without knowing"
In the last, and my favorite, part of the series, Sam starts giving practical examples of seeing Christ in pop culture, and continues his argument on how beneficial and albeit it necessary it is to train ourselves with this mindset.  Some excerpts:
The purpose of drawing out the Christian truths reflected in popular culture is to proclaim to anyone who enjoys it ‘the One whom they worship without knowing.’ 
There are few people nowadays who cannot point to a favourite movie or novel; we should never underestimate the power (and the sheer, humble honesty) of acknowledging that even though a work might not be produced by the Church, it still reflects Christ Himself in its own way. And maybe, just maybe, the things which a person loves about that work, are features of Christ Himself.
Common structure of movies that mirror the Christian story of salvation:
  1. The Ordinary World: the hero’s homeland, where all is well. (Eden)
  2. Call to Adventure: the ordinary world is threatened by an evil force. (‘Death enters into the world by the envy of the Devil’)
  3. The Journey: the hero embarks on a quest to save what is threatened; he encounters many trials along the way. (The Incarnation)
  4. The Trial: the hero makes a terrible sacrifice or comes into extreme personal danger at the hands of the enemy. All seems lost. (The Cross)
  5. Resurrection: the hero’s sacrifice pays off. He is not killed, but ‘rises’ with new and greater power to defeat the evil force. (The Resurrection of Christ and the founding of the Church on His Blood)
  6. Return: the evil force is defeated and the hero returns to his homeland (the Second Coming and Heaven)
The key is always that the hero, whom we’ve grown to love and admire, gives themselves over to death; destroying the enemy’s power by their sacrifice.
(Can be seen in The Matrix, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, the Batman series, etc whatever else you can think of)
It is not a coincidence that our popular culture, so full of meaningless violence and crudity, still reveals an inescapable obsession with the idea that powerful evil can only be overcome with heroic sacrifice
we should not call this mere coincidence; we should rejoice that for all its failings, our popular culture still retains an ancient memory of the Christ-like hero
Church servants simply cannot tell them to stop reading silly books and pick up an Agpia. They cannot, because to do so would be to ignore and belittle their apprehension of a genuine truth. ... Once they have made the connection between the nobility, courage and truth they apprehend in their favourite works of fiction and the nobility, courage and truth of the living Christ, we will have trouble keeping them away from their Agpias, and from serving Christ the Conquering Hero
For some, the use of popular culture in youth ministry might seem dangerous and unnecessary. But it’s certainly equally dangerous to assume that our youth are incapable of discernment and treat them like babies. ... To do effective youth ministry, we need to find a balance between warning against the dangers and pitfalls of popular culture, and highlighting the good elements contained in it.

Here is the link to the full series on his blog, just 3 of his many awesome posts:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Coptic New Year and 9/11

Today is remembered for two iconic reasons, one from 1,730 years ago, and one from 12 years ago, but both as a result of evil being done to the innocent.

1,730 years ago, during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian Christians were persecuted and martyred for carrying the name of Christ.  The persecution was so severe that the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches decided to mark 283 AD as the year of the martyrs, and to restart our calendar to honor the martyrs that gave their lives for our faith.  For many Orthodox Christians, today is Tute 1, 1730 AM (Ano Martyrum).

But for the vast majority of Americans, today is remembered for a different reason, when our country and our citizens were attacked in cold blood.

Recently I listened to a wonderful podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko (linked at the end of this post) which he gave two years ago on the anniversary of 9/11.  In it he explains evil in the Old Testament and how it is properly understood, God's providential plan that includes evil, how we as Christians should "react" in response to it (namely, repenting, doing good, and trying to win the hearts of our enemies), and that we should not demonize these terrorists as if they were sheer and evil, nor act as if we as a nation are purely innocent and good.

I think this podcast is extremely helpful and is on a topic that is essential for Christians to understand.  No summary I give could possibly do this podcast justice, but I will share some paraphrasing below.  In fact, do not read further than this if you do not plan on listening to the podcast yourself, because you will not be able to fully understand his explanation.

On God's participation in evil:
God is not the cause of evil, human beings and demons are, but God created the world knowing that there would be evil and suffering.  Greco-latin Christian theologians use words like “permits” or “allows” when explaining God’s hand in evil, but the Bible does not speak that way; Scripture teaches that God ultimately causes everything because He created human beings knowing what they would do. 
St. John of Damascus makes an important distinction for us: metaphysically and ontologically God does not cause nor will any evil, but God providentially did will a world in which there would be evil, God willed the world as it is now because He created it knowing that all of these evils would occur.  It is clearly the teaching of the Scripture that it is God who is behind everything; God uses and manipulates the evils of men in a way that would ultimately be for the salvation and good of those who ultimately want good.  There is a providential plan that includes evil, and God is directing that plan. 
In the scriptures God very often uses evildoers and allows them to go through with their evil for purposes of His own, and those are purposes that are ultimately always good and merciful.   He uses evil doers so that people can learn, change, and repent, and overcome their own evils, so that they can see their own place in the evils of humanity that actually exist. 
What are we to see in this? What are we to learn from this?
We have to have the courage to ask these kinds of questions.  When the three youth were thrown into the fiery furnace because they would not worship the idols, Shadrach sang, “Thou art just O God in all that Thou hast done for us.  This has come upon us for our sins, You have permitted/allowed/sent these things to us because of our sins.”  That is the way a Christian would look at it.
On how we should view the terrorists:
We should ask other questions as well, why do these people hate us so much?  Why would these young guys go through all that trouble, learn to do all of those things?  You could say they are evildoers, they are brainwashed, they are in the hands of Satan, but on the other hand they are also God’s creatures.  They are our enemies, but we are commanded to love our enemies, and at least to try to understand our enemies. 
We have to ask the question, why is America so hated by so many people on the planet earth?  What is it about Americans' behavior that can cause people to act toward us the way they do? Maybe there is something in us that causes it.  Sure these people are madmen and evil, but one thing is for sure, that they are not cowards, and that they act on what they believe.  We have to ask ourselves the question, do we act on what we believe?  Why are they willing to blow themselves up?  Why are they willing to sacrifice themselves?  Is it just demonic, or is there some other failure, more common failure of humanity as a whole that has created the world as we know it today?
What a Christian should do:
There is still a question that no one can deny that we have to ask.  What should we do?  How should we behave? Not only to defend ourselves from evildoers, that is very important, but we have to ask the question, what can we do to change their minds?  What can we do to convert them so that they don’t feel so powerfully possessed to behave this way?  How can we witness to them that there is another way of living, a better way of living?  What can we do?  One thing is for sure, we are not going to do it with our porno films and our sex charged culture, we are not going to do it by the so-called American way of life the way we live it now, with vulgar materialism.  We are not going to do it with our carnal lifestyles.  We are not going to do it by greed and by power and by self-righteousness.  We are not going to do it by demeaning them and calling them names.  We are certainly not going to do it by our abortion centers and our own culture of death that we have in the western world. 
There is a deeper issue here:  how do we win the minds and the hearts of the people who hate us so much that they are willing to plan and connive and learn how to drive airplanes so that they can smash our country?  What can we do to change them? 
The first answer is, what can we do to change ourselves?  That would be what God will ask us.  All of these things have happened, how are you going to change yourself because they have happened?  What are you going to do about the fact that this has happened?  How are you going to act to prevent it from ever happening again?  Not only to defend yourself against it, but to create a world in which it would not happen, or at least it would be gravely minimized.  These are also the questions we have to ask on the anniversary of the terrorist attack of September 11.
This year, we have gained many more Egyptian martyrs for Christ.  We can learn the proper Christian response to evil and terrorism in the recent events that have occurred in Egypt.  All of those churches, houses, and stores of Christians were burned, but they did not retaliate and return evil for evil. And now everyone can see the true witness of Christians, truly loving their enemies, truly following the commands of Christ.  Even though the churches have not been rebuilt, the churches are already being glorified.

Here is the link to Fr. Thomas Hopko's podcast "Understanding Evil - 9/11 Remembered" -

Please do yourself a favor and listen to it!  You will thank me forever!!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Preaching to non-Christians.

School starts today and we'll all be interacting with non-Christians everyday. I'm going to share what I've learned in my humble experience.

The only testimony any true Christian can give for her faith is in John 9.
He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.” 
So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”

He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”
I don't have God.  I don't have Him and I can't give Him to anyone no matter how hard I try. God gives Himself to those who truly seek Him and are ready to receive Him.  All I know, and all I will ever know, is that I was once blind, and now I can see.  My sight is not permanent.  Frequently I am blind, but when I wash my eyes of my pride as Christ told me to, I see again.  All I can give to anyone is an example of someone who cannot live without God and who hopefully keeps trying to see Him.

I can talk to you about my life as a Christian and I can tell you what I believe.  But if you want me to prove to you that God exists, or that my God is true, sorry, I can't. You'll have find out yourself.

To the non-Christians:
But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

To the Christians:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A lesson from St. Mary on dealing with anger.

On Sunday, Mora Sorial came and spoke at my church's young women's meeting and shared a contemplation on a biblical passage involving our Mother the Theotokos St. Mary.  I also happened to be reading a book on anger, and it struck me that St. Mary dealt with the situation described exactly how the author of the book instructs us to deal with anger.
And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.  When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem.  And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.  So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.  Now so it was that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.  So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us?  Look, Your father and I have sought you anxiously."  And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me?  Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"  But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.  Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these thing in her heart.
(Luke 2:42-51)

Let's take a look at what happened to St. Mary here.  They were returning home from the feast and thought He was with them.  They traveled an ENTIRE day's journey and realized He wasn't with them, so they had to go back, wasting yet another day.  After missing her Son for THREE DAYS, she finds Him and asks Him, "Son, why have You done this to us?  Look, Your father and I have sought you anxiously."

She was missing her Son for three days.  And what does she do?  She does not hide her feelings, but neither does she condemn Him or spank Him or rage at Him.  Rather than assuming He was careless, irresponsible, immature, and ultimately wrong, she communicates and seeks clarity, giving Him the opportunity to respond.  She interacts so utterly respectfully with her TWELVE YEAR OLD SON.

In The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way, Gary Chapman explains that anger is not inherently sinful.  There are many instances in the Bible where God is angry with His people or other nations, because He is loving, and therefore desires justice.  Our impulse to anger is also guided by justice.  We see an injustice, and anger motivates us to fix it.  But because we are not entirely God-centered, sometimes our anger is self-centered, and instead we become angry (or the whole host of other emotions that come with it: upset, disappointed, resentful, etc.) at a perceived injustice, when in reality the other person really had done nothing morally wrong.  Therefore, to make sure our anger is valid, we must first be honest with ourselves as well as the other person and acknowledge that we are angry ( "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed." "I'm not angry, I just expect more." "I'm not angry, I just wish I had a better son."), and seek further information to make sure our anger is valid.

That is what St. Mary did.  She acknowledged her anger and was honest with Him about it, but instead of jumping to conclusions automatically, sought to understand the situation better and asked Him "Son, why have You done this to us?"  We must then analyze our options, to see if there is any constructive and loving way of dealing with the situation.  We don't have more of the story, but: "His mother kept all these thing in her heart."  She actively tried to understand, she actively tried to figure out the best way to deal with the situation.

Our mother is the perfect example of how to deal with anger-inducing situations in a godly way. :-)

Happy Feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Virgin Mother St. Mary!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How I became a boss at dropping quotes from books.

People think that just because my father is a genius and an avid reader, it means I have the natural ability to plow through books and immediately internalize everything they say.  They're wrong.  I once hated reading too, and I don't believe reading comes easily to anyone.  But it comes easily to me now, and here is how.

The best advice I've ever gotten on reading is something my brother once told me, "Never turn the page until you completely understand everything written on it.  Don't even go on to the next paragraph until you can summarize what the one before it was saying."  Something else Tony taught me is that you have to be constantly relating what you are reading to yourself and to things you've learned in the past or from other places.

Those two points, 1) making sure you understand before you go on, and 2) connecting it to yourself and things you already know, are the reasons why I am able to naturally remember so many quotes and passages that I read.  Those are also the main two mechanisms by which we form memories in general, whether reading a book, having a conversation, or observing a scene around us.

This is also the best study strategy I've ever had.  When I am studying for a class, I usually only have to look at the material once, because when I spend time studying it, it becomes ingrained in my mind.  Although it is time consuming, it is immensely helpful for my philosophy degree, which includes a lot of dense reading.  I've also naturally become a much faster reader, and much better at picking up and remembering things.

I really don't read that much.  When I'm dropping quotes in a discussion, it is usually from the same few books.  And I don't do it by sitting there and memorizing quotes all day.  I just make sure I get absolutely everything out of the book before I move on to another one.

People ask me for books suggestions all the time, and sometimes they are disappointed.  I tell them a book is amazing, and later they come telling me it wasn't as good as they expected it to be.  I bet they don't read like I do.  Something I remind myself of is that this person whose book I'm reading is infinitely smarter than me, and if they thought these words were worth it and I don't, then there is something wrong with me and in how I'm understanding it.

If you say, "I'm just not a reader," you're an idiot.  Stop complaining.  And don't turn the page until you understand everything on it.  It will be painful at first, but soon, young jedi, you will become great.

A great post by a blogger I love on the concept of deliberate practice:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Words that have changed me: Words for the Christians.

I recently returned from a retreat with the theme of lukewarmness in the Christian life.  Basically, it was all about how to stop being a hypocrite, how to stop being lazy, how to stop being "good enough" and actually pursue a genuine and whole-hearted relationship with God and consequently, every other person in life.

Something I heard many years back, probably when I was in middle school, rang in my ears the entire 3 days of the retreat, and those words have still not left me.  I was visiting my sisters who were living in DC at the time, and I attended a weekday liturgy at St. Mark's church.  Fr. Anthony Messeh gave the sermon.  I don't remember anything else he was talking about, though I was utterly confused that a sermon could be less than 2 hours long--let alone 20 minutes long--but I remember one line, "If there is any day in your life that you do not grow even a little bit closer to God, that day was wasted."

At this point the skeptics might ask, "But how do you know whether you grew closer to God that day or not?"  Well, think about how you grow closer to any human being.  It's when you feel you know them more, when you spend time with them, have a meaningful conversation with them, when you have a genuine appreciation/love for them, when you actually felt like you pleased them, etc.  It is hard to describe "growing closer" but if you've ever done it before, you'll intuitively know.  But if you're looking for some way to start measuring, it's probably best to start with the question of whether I at least found Him worth any of my time that day or not.

Something Fr. Abraham Wassef (Fr. Abe) said on the retreat was that God asks for a tithe, not just of our money, but of everything.  So 10% of our day would be 2 hours and 24 minutes.  Damn.  When have I EVER voluntarily given God 10% of my day?  Then I consider, well, what if during that 10% of the day I am actually only truly focusing 10% of that time, so 10% of 10% amounts to about 15 minutes worth of purely focusing on God.  When have I ever even done THAT?

If there is any day in your life that you do not grow even a little bit closer to God, that day was wasted.

Those words have pestered me over the years, always as a smack in the face with reality, reminding me what the point of all of this really is.  All of my grand plans for the future, most of the 7,517 days of my past, melt into a wasteland of half-assed-Christian-ness.  I can't keep doing this.  None of us can keep doing this.  As William Wallace in the movie Braveheart said, "Every man dies, but not every man really lives."

If there is any day in your life that you do not grow even a little bit closer to God, that day was wasted.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Words that have changed me: Words for the anxious.

Ever since I was a child, my brother took me under his wing, loved me, and showered me with his wisdom.  I know that God uses him as an instrument through which He speaks to me, and so to this day, anything he says goes straight to my heart and becomes engraved in my memory.

About two months ago, I went to him for advice.  I was worrying and crying for days on end about a problem a friend of mine was having.  And Tony said something true to me: "Only worry about the things that you can control."

Anxiousness and worry are things with which I have always struggled.  I have a talent of being able to see and plan things far into the future, but I may also abuse that talent.  I can easily get lost in worrying about the future and creating imagined anxiety for myself, completely losing focus on the here and now, the tangible moment which I can control.  But reflecting on that thought, the very things that I can control, I realized that I have much less control over things than I ever imagined.  And I realized why my life wasn't changing: because I wasn't changing those very things that I do have control over.

I thought I was being a good friend.  I thought I was being holy by letting my friend's problem dominate all my prayers and thoughts.  But I was wrong.  In fact, my many prayers exposed my doubt that God would answer them.  My many worries exposed my vanity and hypocrisy, preferring to consume my mind with the problems of others over which I have no control, rather than looking inward and consuming myself with fixing my many shortcomings.

As Tony explained to me, I should simply give her my opinion, pray for her, hand over the issue to God, and leave it at that.  I could not help her beyond that point, and if I cannot control her decisions nor control the world, why should I worry about it so much?  By worrying about something over which I have no control, I was neglecting so many other things that I do control.

Those words have PROFOUNDLY changed my thoughts and actions.  Every time I find myself ruminating over the past, the future, something, or someone, those words ring in my ears:  "Only worry about the things that you can control,"  and I quickly remember something productive I could be doing and focus my attention on that.  In this way, my worry becomes useful.  My worry can be a useful motivation, and can be turned into actions, rather than acting as a retarding force simply leading to paralysis.

Limiting one's concerns to what one can control also safeguards against a certain type of self-deception.  A few months ago I read a book entitled I Told Me So: Self-deception and the Christian Life.  In it the author explains that a self-deception tactic we may frequently employ is recasting our feelings of anger or hurt toward someone as "concern" for them:
Concern is a convenient disguise for anger, since "concern" for someone is a perfectly legitimate sentiment, and it seems to justify many of the behaviors one would expect from someone who's just plain hurt and mad. ... We're not angry with them, we just feel sorry for them. 
And so we go on, expressing our criticism and cynicism of them in our prayers, and gossiping about them to others, but that's okay, because we're doing it for their own good, we are concerned, we're being such Good Samaritans by spreading news of their problems or how they've wronged us.  BUT if one only worries about that which she can control, she has no need for these sort of thoughts of concern for others, and saves herself from this sort of deception.

The quality of not worrying and simply doing one's part and leaving the rest to God is something I greatly admire about the Virgin Mother.  There are so many instances in her life when she could have worried and argued with God, refused to do His will because she didn't understand, but instead, she simply obeyed God and allowed Him to manage her life as deemed fit.  And look at what she did for the world.

And so, I pass these words of truth along to you, and I hope you will use them when you are tempted to waste your energy worrying.  Only worry about the things that you can control.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Would I marry him?

As I approach "dating age," I'm observing and figuring out what I'd want in a potential husband, and I've come up with two weed out questions:

1. Is he the man I want my sons to grow up to be?
2. Is he the man I want my daughters to have as their definition of a man?

If the answer to either one of them is "no" then he is automatically off the potentials list (not that I have one...).

Why are these questions absolutely essential and important to me?

- They don't let my insecurities get in the way.
"But he's so charming..."
"But he likes me so much...I'll never meet a guy that likes me so much...."
"But he's so smart..."
"But he's *faints*"
"He said I look pretty.  He must therefore be the only man in the world who is physically attracted to me."
"Doctor? My mom might approve."
"Doctor AND deacon?  Mom approves."

No matter what is making me attracted to him right now, which may very likely be due to some insecurity of mine, they force me to think about what really matters.

They also force me out of the illusion that I can look at him for his potential.  "Oh he would be perfect, if only he were a little more mature, if only he had this, but that will change, I'm sure I can help him change."  As my father of confession wisely told me, "Nobody changes.  I know that from experience."  It forces me to say to myself, "No Martha, stop evading the question.  Is he NOW the man you want your sons to grow up to be?"

-They keep me objective.
He might be entertaining, he might be romantic, he might be a great friend, but will he be a good father?  Can we work together as a team?  It's easy to be short sighted and think marriage is all about me, what's most compatible with me, will be make me happy, but in reality the bulk of your married years are spent just raising kids together.

-They help me tap into my gut feelings about a person.
I just intuitively know the answer to these questions when I am considering a guy.  Rather than wasting my time trying to rationalize good and bad, if something is "off" about him, these questions will hit the nail on the head.

-They serve as a lens/frame/filter for any other qualities I'd want to put on my list of potential-husband qualities.
Puts my head in the right place first before adding superfluous qualities.

My sons will grow up to be who he is.  My daughters will have him as the model against which they judge every other man, as well as how they feel men should perceive and treat them as women.

I think these questions are ingenious and that everyone should use them when thinking about her future husband or his future wife.  You know you'll thank me later.

What are your thoughts?  Please tell me so I don't feel like a loser!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Suggest a Post!

Have a question or topic you want me to write a post about?  Suggest it in the comments of this post.