Friday, March 25, 2011

One Year in Reflection

Lessons Learned This Past Year

Today is a special day for me, not only because it is a Holy Feast Day in the Orthodox Church, but more importantly it is my one-year anniversary. It was one year ago today that I made a decision and was relieved of my “ordination” as a Reader in the Orthodox Church.

There were those in my life who felt gloomy about my decision. I did not. I felt not only relieved but full of joy at my newfound freedom. On this one-year anniversary, I would like to recount some of the lessons learned in this past year.

Lesson 1 – (probably the most important)

Don’t be gloomy. The world is beautiful beyond our imaginations. People are beautiful. There are wonders around every corner. Life is in full blossom of joy. Even in times of hardship the great joy that shines out from everything in the world around us is exceedingly beautiful. Take comfort in this. Enjoy what pleasures God sends your way no matter how small. They are there, the glimpses of Him in his creative handiwork. If you live your life expressing and participating in joy, you will discover that joy is like an avalanche, affecting everyone around you. When you give a smile, you generally get back even more than you have given.

Lesson 2 – (probably the second most important)

Ignore the haters. These people are characterized by a sense of superiority that they pretend like they don’t have toward others, but it comes out in their actions and interactions. They may for example tell you what is wrong with your life, or what you are doing wrong, or why you should do things this way or that way. They pretend like they are trying to help you, but really all they are doing is trying to make themselves feel superior to you. Don’t take anything they say seriously. Learn from them, yes, but never believe them, and never trust in them, and never ever allow them to demoralize you. They do not have your best interests in mind so take no heed to their thoughts or actions.

Lesson 3

Let yourself love unconditionally and without restriction. Don’t let your love for others become a form of bondage because of your own selfish expectations. Don’t ever expect anything in return and you will be pleasantly surprised by all who do love you back. But also don’t place limits on your love for others. Don’t ever tell yourself that your spouse is more important than your child, and your child is more important than your friends, and your friends are more important than your acquaintances, and your acquaintances are more important than a stranger. The most important person in your life is the one right there with you, whoever and wherever they may be. Treat that person with love and respect and joy, and don’t expect or demand anything in return. You will feel better for this than you would suffocating yourself with attachment to one single person. But true love is not fully detached, it is empathetic. Learn to experience both the joys and sufferings of others without letting their hardships demoralize you, or their love for people other than you send you into an abyss of jealousy, or their hatred of you make you angry. In the long run, hatred wears a person down, but love does not. You will win if you live by love.

Lesson 4

Ignore the betrayers. This could so easily have been combined with lesson two, but there is another kind of “hater” and that’s someone who was once in the role of friend and has become a hater instead. This is a little more difficult to deal with, because you once felt an attachment to them and a kinship with them. But if you can conquer Lesson 2 and Lesson 3, Lesson 4 will be easy. If someone was once a friend and has become “a hater” then they were never really a friend, since they had their own interests in mind all along, and never your interests. Don’t take them seriously, and don’t take the hurt you are feeling personally by turning it against them.

Lesson 5

Do things. Don’t be afraid to do things, to reach out in new ways, to learn new things, to meet new people, to love new people, to extend yourself beyond the life you’ve already got. The life you’ve already got is not a static thing, it is a dynamic thing. Don’t ever let yourself, and especially don’t ever let others, pigeonhole you. If you want to try some new activity that you can afford to spend the time or money on and isn’t bad for you, just do it. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, that you aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or are too old, or whatever. You can do anything that you set your mind to, if it is important enough to you. Most importantly, you are never too old to learn something new.

Lesson 6

Encounter God. God is everywhere in the world around us, His beauty sustaining the universe like a celestial garment. While God’s grace is present in the services and sacraments of Church, He does not limit himself to this. God’s beauty and grace is everywhere. Open your eyes and see it. While I love the beauty of God in the services and artwork of Church, and there I am brought in a certain sense “closer to Him” it would be erroneous to believe God can only be encountered in Church. There are those who try to convince you that you can only encounter God at Church. That is a lie. If you cannot encounter God outside of Church, it is unlikely you are truly encountering him in Church. Most likely in Church you are deluding yourself with notions of encounter, and not actually encountering God, because He is bigger than the glimpses of Himself you are given at Church, as beautiful, mystical and holy as these glimpses may be.

Lesson 7

God wants you to be whole. You have certain natural talents and abilities toward creativity and improvement. You also have certain natural tendencies towards entropy and degeneration (aka sin). It is most likely that these things are closely associated with one another. Personal wholeness consists of allowing yourself to become filled up with the former so that it pushes out the latter. Every person is different. There is no “one solution” to a perfectly whole life. You are unique and what works for others may not work for you. As you personalize and integrate the six “lessons” before this, the seventh starts to take shape. The more you become an authentic person, the more beautiful the world around you becomes and the more beautiful you personally become, inside, where you need to be beautiful.

Lesson 8 and Conclusion

Get up and walk.

That’s been my lessons for the past year. I haven’t always been “successful” at what I have learned. Much of the time I’ve learned what the right thing was, by doing the opposite. I started out 2010 exceedingly gloomy and didn’t make an about-face until late April or early May. I have got some of the concepts down in my head now, but I haven’t fully mastered how they will work out in my life. But I truly believe I am on the right path toward the whole person God wants me to be. I look forward to what the next year brings with all of its sorrows and joys, lessons and struggles, triumphs and failures both, because in the end every failure can become a personal triumph if only we will listen to our own hearts and observe carefully our own lives, and whenever we are down, pick ourselves right back up again and walk. You only get somewhere by walking.