Small Things, Great Joy

When there is a respect for small things, there will be an even greater respect towards the bigger things. When there is no respect for small things, then neither will their be for the bigger ones. This is how the Fathers maintained tradition.

-St. Paisios the Athonite

Like a lot of people, the time after Pascha has been difficult. After putting so much energy into the Lenten season, the challenge of avoiding a crash is a big one, and I’ve certainly fallen into the pattern (again). It comes at a time where a lot of things happened around the time of Pascha (e.g., an exhibit opening, a dance competition, etc.), and since then, I’ve been in a sort of survival mode to keep going until the next wave rises.

Additionally, my daughter’s had a resurgence of some of her pre-medication symptoms, which has made things really, really difficult at times. Granted, I was fully aware that this could happen from time to time, but when it did, I don’t believe I was fully prepared for it, and as a result, I started to become despondent. In those moments- where you’ve had a wave of joy and it starts to fade again- you fear that you will lose it, and lose it forever. It’s difficult not to say “Why? We just got things going again, and now it’s setting back before our eyes.”

In that process, however, I have realized that things are always going. Life never stops going. Rather, it tends to go high, or it tends to go low, with the intention being the same: to help us realize our connection to God, and His intention for our lives.

Recently, I was listening and watching to the recent series, “The Comforter,” a homily series by Fr. Nicholas Louh that is featured on his podcast Healthy Souls. Focusing on the sending of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Nick spoke of the Holy Spirit as a comforter, and comfort comes in the form of focusing on things that are praiseworthy, rather than following more earthly matters that don’t tend to glorify God. One of the most powerful quotes that came from the homily series was very simple:

“You will never have peace following the other voices in your life.”

More often than not, the person who puts those voices in my head, is me. In public, if one of my children is struggling in front of other people, my thoughts tend to wander to the voices of the other people around me, and forget about the cry for help coming from the struggles of my kids. When I hear people talk about things they recently bought, or journeys that might be going on, I sometimes fall into the trap that, in order to be worthy of personhood, I have to incorporate those things into my life as well. It is very, very hard, especially growing up in a generation that is struggling more economically than those before them.

Even those though things are of this earth, what I eventually realized is that they have no roots in something bigger. Fr. Nick’s series had a well-stated fact about our connectivity: “You’ll never grow fruit if you’re not connected to the root.” Things on the surface often lack those roots; that’s why they are on the surface in the first place. At the same time, the process of establishing and building those roots is not something that can be done in the course of a few weeks, or a year. Roots grow for a lifetime, and they grow if we are feeding them, and keeping them connected to the soil in which they grow and take hold. Building those roots is how peace is acquired, and according to Fr. Nick, “We need to be able to tune in, follow and be comforted by [the Holy Spirit]…when you wake up in the morning, God is knocking at the door of your heart…”

In times of struggle, it’s hard not to speak up, and be transparent, and up front. It’s hard to not want to shout from the world, “I am a human, and I am having a horrible wave of frustration, anger and despondency, and I want your respect and attention.” Admittedly, I’ve been on the side of over-sharing, and not processing those emotions before projecting them out into the world. This can lead to trouble, and bring people into situations that they may not be able to properly understand or respond to.

In one of his Comforter homilies, Fr. Nick noted that has a profound effect on our actions, and it’s not just rooted in feeling, but in thought: “the way we think determines how we feel; how we feel manifests in the way in which we act…Negativity will never grow in a giving heart.” In times of trouble, giving, and working together, has been the way to overcome the waves of struggle. And in these times, waiting for a giant, sweeping deus ex machina to come through and smooth things out will only disappoint. Instead, as St. Paisios stated, the small things will make all of the difference.

The way that we have responded at home is to undertake smaller, but more meaningful actions. I confess that, for all of my Orthodox life, I did not have a firm prayer rule until this spring. And, when i finally received one from my spiritual father, it was smaller than the one I had forced upon myself. As a result, it’s easier to adhere to, and my prayer life has been more consistent and regular.

In our home, being renters means that we cannot engage in large-scale renovation or restoration, but are instead limited to small but helpful changes around the house and garden. In the last few weeks, we have turned our weed-laden yard into a tidy, colorful garden space, and the processes- the little ones- have brought our family together in a new way. My kids adore watering, weeding, and having the chance to cultivate and grow their first flowers, herbs and tomato plant. My wife and I are working together to create small decorative pieces that add a sense of optimism and beauty to the space.

I recently reviewed the new Ancient Faith Publishing book by L. Joseph Letendre, When You Pray,  and it featured the advice of turning very small moments into prayerful moments. I thought of some of the prayerful moments that I have lost from small tasks at home and work: transferring laundry to the dryer, taking trash and recyclables to our backyard bins, and even cutting construction paper for our many school tours. I haven’t made a full list, but it’s not a bad idea. In those moments, a small and tedious task suddenly becomes a moment of prayer, and thus a moment of joy.

Eventually, all small things could become moments of prayer.

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