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.