Reflections on a Lenten “Writer’s Block”

A blessed Pascha to all- Christ is Risen!

This Lenten season was very special for many reasons. First of all, I became a godfather/sponsor for the first time, to a local university student. This is a role that I am not only honored to fill, but one that I dreamed of filling, and my 10th Lent seemed like an appropriate time to do so. I thought a lot about the fact that it was my 10th Lent in the Orthodox Church; at this point, I have been Orthodox almost as long as I was in the Methodist church of my upbringing.

Thinking about that milestone encouraged me to try something I hadn’t done yet since converting: try to go without dairy products for most of the fast. I expected it to be excruciating. I really enjoy my morning coffee with cream, and one of my favorite snacks is Siggi’s skyr yogurt. However, once I got into the fast, I found the process not excruciating, but exhilirating. This fast- like the first I experienced while living in Kentucky- was an opportunity to look at prayer, fasting and almsgiving with a stronger sense of joy. It was not always easy, especially as I was travelling quite often for my job, but it taught me to see everything as a challenge. That challenge expanded to attending services, and trying to be at more of Holy Week. For some reason, I was able to see small things, like schedule conflicts and busy weeks, as challenges and windows of opportunity for prayer and growth. Seeing the frenzy in that way allowed me to be more at peace with Lent as a season of growth through struggle.

While I was more at ease with fasting, one of the areas in which I greatly struggled was writing. I felt like St. Mary of Egypt as she tried to enter the church; no matter what, I was not able to enter that space. Literally, in three months, I wrote half a blog post about Time and Despondency, and I struggled to think of how to write about a book series that I have been reading from the Norwegian author Karl Øve Knausgård. Reading did not come with difficulty, but writing about it was a battle.

In the last year, I was fortunate enough to connect to Orthodox author, podcaster, and educator Elissa Bjeletich, who has been kind enough to coach me through the early stages of writing, and served as a sort of blog mentor over the last several months. In a conversation we were having, I mentioned that, now that my daughter’s health has improved somewhat, I have not been writing as frequently. Elissa simply said “Sometimes writing is a coping mechanism. The good news is that it reminded you that you love to write. Now you have to find a way to build it into your routine. Like prayer. So much easier when everything is dark and unknown.”

At the same time, while I have not been able to complete a blog entry in several months, my conversation with Elissa also reminded me that my other work, although not always publicly posted, is writing, and that writing practice often comes from branching out into other spaces, or seeing the opportunity for writing in those spaces. Once she said that, I started to see how my professional projects- which include things such as K-12 curriculum, magazine articles, and public talks- are things that help my writing, albeit in a different way. Through creating lesson plans, I learn to communicate my objectives to an educator. Through magazine articles, I learn to reach a particular audience in a short format. Through public talks, I learn how to take written communication and put it into a new form of performance: the verbal arts. I’ve found inspiration from my former years as part of an OCA mission in Canada; my former bishop, now Archbishop Irenée, was bivocational for much of his pre-ordination life, working as an assistant in the emergency ward in a Montreal hospital. Vladyka believed that one could learn quite a lot about obedience and humility from nursing other people, thus providing me an important lesson on how seemingly unrelated things prove themselves relevant.

Elissa’s third- and I think best- bit of wisdom to me was that “it’s good to slow down and take things in, before you switch back to output!” We are given so many opportunities to express ourselves. We have journals, blogs, Instagram and Snapchat accounts, art, dance, YouTube, and many other ways to put our thoughts onto some form of tangible, sharable media. But how often do we soak it in, rather than just spill it out?

That’s the question I want to keep asking myself.

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It Takes Work

“Put your faith in God, but don’t stop working.”
Russian proverb

Several weeks have passed since we returned from the Bay Area, and I am happy to be able to say that my daughter has been able to- at last- start taking the medicine she needs for her narcolepsy. She is taking Xyrem, which as a medicine is complicated; it is heavily controlled due to its history of being abused and misused, and it is only available through one central pharmacy in the U.S. Thankfully, our interactions with the pharmacy have been overwhelmingly positive, and we have been gifted with good support as Mari began her treatment a week ago. Originally, we had to wake up in the middle of the night to give her doses, but have since been able to shift to a schedule that is allowing us to sleep decently for the first time in quite a while. (We’ve been woken up most nights for several months because Mari, out of having terrible dreams, would come into our bed, sometimes several times in a night.)

Mari is feeling better. She is getting restful sleep, and we have noticed that some things have improved, such as her moods, the normalcy of her appetite, and even things like her impulse control. Our evenings at home have had significantly less struggle, which this has proven to be a huge relief for us.

Yet, at the same time, we know that this is not the end of our struggle, or hers. We are still working on finding the right dosage for her, which requires being in touch with the crew at Stanford, and a great deal of patience. She still has times where she needs to sleep, and moments in which she is frustrated. However, those struggles are more like those of any six-year old, and it’s not easy to raise a six-year old, let alone one with a chronic disorder.

In the gradual settling of things, I’ve found myself sitting and wondering, “Did this all really just happen?” The answer is, of course, yes, it did, and to be able to step back from it and look more. Even with a diagnosis, proper treatment, and a bit of resilience, there’s a feeling of starting anew. It’s hard to look back at what happened, and not feel a sense of sadness for what did not go well. For what you regret saying, doing, and thinking as a parent, spouse, family member, coworker or friend. For the first time in years, I had a feeling of hitting the absolute bottom.

But in community, and in communion with the people around me, I realized that because of that bottoming, and sharing that sentiment with people closest to me, it is possible to go beyond it, and to do better. And it’s possible to keep moving, as the waves do.

Every low point of a wave gives way to a higher wave. But it takes time, energy, force, and gravity.

And, as the above proverb suggested, it takes work.

 

Winter Reading and Traveling, Part 3: The Struggle is Real (But Communal)

Essential to the call of the lay person, then, is the decision to embrace a full, if occasionally hesitant, engagement with society.
Daniel G. Opperwall, A Layman in the Desert

My wife and I are part of a Facebook group of parents of children with narcolepsy. Since pediatric narcolepsy is something that’s fairly recent in terms of wider understanding and research, these groups are helpful if you are looking to find other parents to talk with, or even meet. From the group, we have seen what other parents go through at various ages; even if every case is different, it’s helpful to understand, and to have a place where you can talk to others if you have a certain issue.

From the page, we learned that a lot of people were talking about Stanford, where Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, the leading pediatric narcolepsy specialist, is based. A lot of parents have taken their children to Dr. Mignot, who has been able to properly advise patients, their families, and their local providers on how to best treat narcolepsy and its symptoms. His influence helps get many children the medicine they need.

Because of how specific his specialty is, it’s a long wait to get into his office, and we were prepared to have to wait a while ourselves. However, because of our family and community, we were given the opportunity to see Dr. Mignot this week. My mom, on a whim, decided to contact them to find out about the waiting list, and upon learning of how young Mari was, the team asked us to send them her records. Jen worked for days to compile a 125-page file of medical documents, photos of her symptoms’ progression, and many other vital facts.

It was less than 24 hours later that we were asked to come out to California. So this last week, we traveled out to Palo Alto, via Minneapolis, to meet Dr. Mignot. Very gracious local friends of ours watched Rosi, and we made a short trip out of the doctor visit,  driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, lighting candles and saying prayers at Holy Virgin Cathedral, and eating the best Japanese food we’d ever had in Palo Alto. We worked to make it as easy on Mari as possible.

Marin County sideWhen we finally met Dr. Mignot the next day, we were amazed by his devotion and one-on-one attention. He spoke about narcolepsy like I talk about folklife, or like Jen talks about string quartets: with passion, conviction and deep knowledge. He made every effort to talk with Mari about her interests, her feelings, and what it’s like for her to have narcolepsy with cataplexy. Before we had the chance to ask questions, Dr. Mignot had answered the majority of them. It was the first time that Mari’s condition felt like something typical and treatable.

The Stanford sleep medicine team all gave us their full, undivided attention. As they see so few pediatric narcolepsy patients, they give all of them their A-plus game, and are all working together to not only better treat narcolepsy, but also find a potential cure. The struggle for the families no longer remained isolated, but was part of a greater communal effort.

That is one of the biggest realizations from all that has emerged in the last several months. There have been a lot of moments where we have felt like no one has understood exactly what we have experienced. And with the emotions that come with the struggle, it’s easy to pull further away from people. Daniel Opperwall, in his book Layman in the Desert, describes this isolation as being very damaging:

If love is a shared commitment to purity of heart between individuals, then seeking separation from others, by its very nature, discourages love and can make it ultimately impossible. 

Being in community, and embracing it, according to Opperwall, is an opportunity to build stronger bonds and support:

Life in society is a string of moments inviting compassion. To seize even one or two of these moments a day would effect a spiritual transformation in us that we could scarcely imagine. It would be to instantly lighten the burden of all those we meet while providing ourselves with one of the greatest blessings we can receive. It would be to heal and be healed in a single act, to repent without needing to be struck first by guilt, to press ourselves and everyone around us forward from anger and into love, which is purity of heart shared in common.

For Mari, it has taken a community to get her to this point. A team of health specialists worked to diagnose her, and are working to best treat her condition. Our family has supported us, learned alongside us, and provided a lot of emotional support for us as parents. Her teachers are working to ensure that she continues to thrive in her school. Her dance instructors make sure that she keeps getting better at something she loves. And our friends, fellow parishioners, and coworkers have been present, whether through offering tea, an open ear, or a night out to ourselves.

I have learned in the last few months that, although the struggle is real, it is something that is experienced, in various ways, by a wide group of people. And because of that, all of us are better off than before.

Winter Reading, Part 2: “And What Do You Yourself Think?”

“Bow your head. It won’t fall off.”
Archimandrite Kyrill (Pavlov), 1919-2017

I subscribe to The Orthodox Word, which is a small publication that comes out four times a year through St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in California. Each issue features a different figure in the Church, and my most recent issue was about Archimandrite Kyrill (Pavlov), who reposed in February 2017 at the age of 98.

Fr. Kyrill Pavlov

Fr. Kyrill was a very beloved priest in Russia, having served as a confessor to not only countless Orthodox, but also to three Russian patriarchs.  Born in 1919, he grew up in the early years of the Soviet Union, eventually serving as a soldier during the Second World War (in Russian, the Great Patriotic War), where he was not only wounded twice on the western fronts, but also endured the conditions of the six-month battle of Stalingrad (now Volgograd).

During his service, then Sgt. Ivan Pavlov found tatters of a book in the rubble of a building. After dusting it off, he realized that it was the Gospel, and started reading it with great passion:

I had many perplexities about the war. Why did it happen, why were we having to suffer so terribly? […] But after reading the Gospel, everything became clear, the scales fell from my eyes, and I understood all that was going on around me. It was like a healing balm for the soul.

Promptly applying for seminary after the war, Ivan Pavlov eventually graduated from Moscow Theological Seminary, and became a novice monk on his last day of seminary in 1954. Quickly rising to the position of abbot of the St. Sergius Lavra monastery in 1959, Fr. Kyrill was known for his spiritual guidance and charity throughout the year, serving over six decades as a monastic.

His work, however, was not easy, not only because of the difficulties of monastic life, but also because of Soviet efforts to repress religious belief- especially those of monastics. Fr. Kyrill endured accusations of immoral relations with some of his spiritual flock- accusations which were fabricated by the state- yet, according to his close connections,

…he never lost his meek demeanor and forgiving attitude throughout this time. It was as if none of the slander were about him; or rather, he accepted it all as part of the inescapable path of a monk laboring for his salvation and the salvation of others. 

What I found compelling about Fr. Kyrill’s story is his directness and simplicity in advising his spiritual flock. Often asked a barrage of questions by seminarians, such as who to marry, or whether or not to serve parishes, he responded simply, but also profoundly,

The young men would bring these questions to Fr. Kyrill fully confident in his guidance, for it was clear that although Fr. Kyrill was unusually modest and unassuming, his answers showed God’s will for them in their lives. Everyone know that he saw things in people that they themselves were unable to see.

Fr. Kyrill’s spiritual son, Igumen Kyprian, also pointed out that Fr. Kyrill had a way of guiding his flock by allowing them to learn from their choices:

“When we asked him for his blessing on one or another decision, he would always ask, ‘And what do you yourself think?’ When the person stated his wishes, Batiushka as a rule would bless it: ‘Do just that.’ Like St. Ambrose of Optina, who told his spiritual children, ‘I’m a weak man, if you start to persuade me, I’ll agree with you,’ Fr. Kyrill likewise never broke anyone’s free will.”

Igumen Nektary and Nun Natalia’s account of this humility focused on Fr. Kyrill’s desire to never wound another person:

With him you always had the right to make a mistake. More than that—you had the right to your own opinion. Disagreement did not cause Fr. Kirill any perplexity or distress (at least he never displayed any distress). He would listen with interest and respect to another point of view and, if he became convinced of its validity, might change his own. Fr. Kirill never domineered over anyone and never forced on anyone his way of thinking about life. After listening to a request, unhurriedly asking about the details of the matter, he would tactfully offer his option for resolving the problem, and the rest was our right to choose. Life itself would reveal the consequences and that his advice was the only sure advice. I never cease to be amazed at how blithely some spiritual advisors might separate a married couple, send to a monastery someone who is still wavering in his decision, or in some way completely and crudely change a human fate. Fr. Kirill treated people with the utmost care, weighed every word, so that he would never wound another’s self-love or injure an infirm soul. But as for mistakes he not only did not coarsely point them out, but in general gave the appearance that nothing had happened. He gave people the opportunity to figure out their errors by themselves.

I found myself intrigued by Fr. Kyrill’s simplicity in his counsel. Whether allowing the person to learn from their choices, or suggesting praying more before making a decision, Fr. Kyrill did with his spiritual children what I wish I did more with my own family: approach things with love, prayer and a willingness to listen. Fr. Kyrill, in his own humility, did not wish to break the spirits of his followers, even if he might not have agreed with what they were doing, or might have suggested doing something else.

St. Porphyrios gave similar advice in his book Wounded by Love, focusing on maintaining a love for others through a constant state of humility and prayer:

Pray for others more than yourself. Say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’, and you will always have others in your mind. […] You get upset when others are unwell, whereas what you should do is devote yourself to prayer so that what is desired comes about through the grace of God.

By being diligent and praying for one’s own mercy, a person can, by example, help others  find that hope. For the last twelve years of his life, Fr. Kyrill was greatly affected by the effects of a stroke, which according to his close followers, he knew was coming. Igumen Nektary and Nun Natalia’s account of being there with Fr. Kyrill at the time of the stroke shows how Fr. Kyrill accepted life’s circumstances with prayer and gratitude:

…suddenly he began to lean towards the pillow. With his right hand he removed his glasses and managed to place them on the bed stand before falling whole body onto the bed, landing on the left side. While the nurses were running to get the doctor I remained in the room with him one-on-one. I cried helplessly and tapped Batiushka on his sleeve. It seemed he was unconscious… But he never left anyone without attention in their troubles, and even then he opened his eyes again, slightly raised his head, turned toward me and quietly but calmly and firmly pronounced, “Don’t be afraid of anything… Glory to God for everything…” And his head again fell lifelessly back onto the pillow.

The three questions that I find myself wondering after reading these texts are as follows:

  1. Are there places in our lives where we can work to better answer my own questions, and create spaces to let others make their own choices?
  2. What we can do to be the example that St. Porphyrios called his followers to be?
  3. How can we remain diligent in our intentions, especially during times of struggle?

 

Living a Mystery: 33 versus 23

Before this year, I used to believe that the most difficult year of my life was 2008, the year after I returned home from Estonia. I was 23, feeling really disjointed and shocked, especially after the profound impact the semester made on my life. I experienced the end of a two-year relationship. I had no time to go back to my university, but instead went straight to graduate school, which was a major adjustment, and one that I did not deal with very well. My sense of hope and togetherness was, at that time, its lowest.
midsummer nightSpending Midsummer/St. John’s Day on the island of Saaremaa, June 2007. I’m second from the left. Photo by Topi Nykänen.
However, in that year, I also made a lot of headway in terms of figuring out what was important to me. The next year, I turned 24, became an Orthodox catechumen, finished my master’s, and moved to Canada. I would meet Jen that fall.
chrismation 2009
Two years later: chrismation. July 2009, St. George Chapel, St. Michael’s Orthodox Church, Louisville, Kentucky.  From left to right: Fr. Aaron Warwick, Fr. Theophan Buck, Dn. Daniel Greeson (my godfather), myself.
Ten years later, in 2017, I have turned 33, and there have been times where I have felt disjointed and shocked over what has happened. Things have gotten better, but the struggle still continues. Unlike 23, where I wanted the struggle to go away, I am finding myself more understanding of the presence of struggle, as well as its importance in our lives. Of course, I would do anything for my daughter to not have narcolepsy with cataplexy, if she didn’t have to. But that is not the way things are.
If I focused only on the struggles of this last year, I would be doing the year a great disservice. I have been given much in terms of joy. Our family has been given much in terms of love, grace and support throughout all of this. It’s not to say that things are not still hard. They are really, really hard. But we are finding it progressively easier to deal with things as they unfold before us.
Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos (+1995) was quoted as saying “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” My daughter’s diagnosis is such a mystery. Our work is that mystery. Our lives are that mystery, and instead of being afraid, I am praying for the strength to accept that mystery with joy and humility. 
10 years down the road, and I see that I overcame what felt like a struggle. The struggle, in retrospect, seems a lot more superficial, but that’s not one of those things you can really see until you’ve been far away enough from it. I think it would be fascinating to travel back in time to encounter my 23-year old self, sitting at a coffee shop brooding over being home, and to say to my younger self, “Look. This hurts now, and it’s okay that it does. But it will make sense later. Some things will make sense sooner than others. But you will be better off than before.”
My prayer, and my goal for this year, is to never forget that it will make sense later on.
And, wherever you are, 43-year old self, you can come visit anytime you want.
A blessed New Year to you all. Christ is Born!
nic

Winter Reading, Part 1: Jeeves, Obedience and St. Porphyrios

For the last few days, I’ve been diving into books that I’ve been gifted over the Christmas holiday. From my family, I received a copy of P.G. Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves (part of the famous Jeeves series), which I recently discovered and found great amusement in reading. Having received a bookstore gift card from one of the kids that I teach in Sunday school, I bought the first volume of a book that I’d seen on the shelves in Minneapolis, but had yet to take a risk on buying: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.

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The two books couldn’t be more opposite, and while I originally intended to make this post about both books, the experiences of each are enough to warrant separate pieces on each one.

The first, a classic series of short stories involving a wealthy man-child who is always being rescued in various ways by his seemingly flawless and omnipotent valet, is part of a classic series, and has made a major impact on popular culture (Jeeves eventually became the stock stereotype of a butler, even though Jeeves, as someone who serves one person, is actually a valet). Wooster is basically saved from terrible choices, whether in clothing, engagements, or flits of whimsy, by the wisdom and common sense of Jeeves, who has either taken matters into his own hands before Wooster even knows about it, or who finds a way to inconspicuously tend to the situation before it gets out of control. Bertie Wooster is not the sharpest person, but he is smart enough to ask for help when help is needed, and also wise enough to hire someone who can counter his shortcomings.  Of his valet, Wooster says at one point:

” “NOW, touching this business of old Jeeves – my man, you know – how do we stand? Lots of people think I’m much too dependent on him. My Aunt Agatha, in fact, has even gone so far as to call him my keeper. Well, what I say is: Why not? The man’s a genius.” 

Most of the time, Jeeves responds to Wooster in a very intentional way. He is not one to waste words, as the below dialogue shows:

“I mean to say, I know perfectly well that I’ve got, roughly speaking, half the amount of brain a normal bloke ought to possess. And when a girl comes along who has about twice the regular allowance, she too often makes a bee line for me with the love light in her eyes. I don’t know how to account for it, but it is so.”

“It may be Nature’s provision for maintaining the balance of the species, sir.”…

“At breakfast this morning, when I was eating a sausage, she told me I shouldn’t, as modern medical science held that a four-inch sausage contained as many germs as a dead rat. The maternal touch, you understand; fussing over my health…. What’s to be done, Jeeves?”


“We must think, sir.”

“You think. I haven’t the machinery.”

“I will most certainly devote my very best attention to the matter, sir, and will endeavour to give satisfaction.”

Another one of my winter reads, St. Porphyrios’ Wounded by Love, has extensive discussions about humility, serving, and the need to refrain from being outraged and coercive towards others when they do not do as we wish. St. Porphyrios says that

“…with our distress we achieve nothing at all. Nor do we achieve anything by trying to persuade them to change their ways. That’s not right either. […] It is a kind of self-project of our own when we insist on other people becoming good. In reality, we wish to become good, but because we are unable to, we demand it of others and insist on this. […] You mustn’t pressurize the other person. His time will come, as long as you pray for him. With silence, tolerance and above all by prayer we benefit others in a mystical way.”

Jeeves has a lot of silence and tolerance in his daily work. It’s not to say that Jeeves is a morally perfect valet, much less a saint; he is known to (without asking) throw out many of his employer’s less-than-appropriate fashion choices, and twist the situation to bail Wooster out of his predicament. But he is nonetheless patient, willing to listen, and highly thoughtful, while highly devoted to serving his master. Wooster is perpetually getting into trouble, and his reputation amongst the community of valets and butlers is well-known. However, he owns his imperfection, and knows that he cannot thrive alone. Jeeves recognizes this too; in one of the other Jeeves collections, he destroys the file about Wooster at the London butler/valet club. Even though the file is the largest one the club has, and might prevent others from experiencing what Jeeves has endured, his patience and forgiveness carry forward. In a most brilliant manner, Jeeves deals with the struggles of Wooster with a great deal of tactfulness and civility.

In the next post, I’ll shift to discussing Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, and talk about the process of being authentic, discussing struggle, and dealing with the effects of doing so in a public and creative fashion.

 

“A Time and World Not Yet in Existence”: Living in a World of Prediction Addiction

There was a lot of thinking about the future in the last few weeks.

I turn 33 tomorrow, and birthdays seem to be a time to think about what the future year might hold.

At work, our department had to think about our strategic plan for the next year, two years, and five years. That’s involved a lot of thinking what could be, and attempting to call corners on what the years might bring.

As a parent, thoughts of the future have been on our mind a lot. Having a kid who’s on the younger side of children with narcolepsy, we get a lot of views of what parents are going through at older ages. I recently watched part of a BBC documentary from the early 2000s, which featured a 14-year old who had 50 cataplexy attacks a day. Even though one can tell themselves “Every case is different,” it’s hard not to sometimes wonder about the future limitations of your child’s life. Will my daughter do okay next year? in middle school? In her vocation? What will her days look like? Will things get better, or worse?

Last week, while my youngest was at dance class, I had the chance to sit in the other room and read parts of Wendell Berry’s recent book The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings. Focusing mostly on thoughts surrounding the latest election, as well as many of his fictional writings, the book also features a lengthy essay related to science, titled “Leaving the Future Behind: A Letter to a Scientific Friend.” The essay extensively discusses how the act of prediction, and speculation, often lead to bigger problems, and often a combination of fears and anxieties for people. According to Berry,

The problem with prediction, no matter how scientifically respectable it may be, is its power to bring on first a fear and then a moment that can be popularized into a fad. Nobody, I think, has ever done good work because of fear. Good work is done by knowing how and by love.

Berry goes on to say that our fear results in a lot of prediction, and a lot of subsequent action that is done “always in agitation,” as it is a combination of potential happiness and possible chaos. As I read that, it made me wonder the following question: is my worrying about my future, or my family’s future, doing more harm than good? Are we addicted, as people, to prediction? Berry notes that scientific experts not only project what could happen, but also feed into the needs and wants of a society who feels anxious about future days:

Professionally, the future seems to belong to the more or less scientific experts. We want, sometimes desperately, to know what is going to happen. We want a prognosis, a projection, a prediction, a contingency plan, a posture of military readiness. 

All in all, we want control over something that cannot ultimately be controlled, which leads us to spin out of control as humans. For some, it’s a job to predict the future, whether calling out the future of the stock market, conducting astrological readings, or giving morning commuters an idea about the weather for the next few days. Sometimes it’s something big, like the end of the world; other times, it’s about a short-term blizzard and needing enough food. (The panic about snowstorms always results in a shortage of ingredients to make French toast: eggs, milk and bread. In my wife’s home region of Atlantic Canada, “storm chips” are a part of snowstorm foodways.)

It’s hard not to worry when you don’t know what will take place. The anxiety is, for many people, overwhelming, and seemingly capable of inducing cardiac trouble. During the several years of graduate school that involved applying for various jobs and fellowships throughout the continent, I frequently fretted, panicked and worried about the well-being and vocational path that was to come. In the process, I discovered a small verse from the Gospel of St. Matthew that has continued to make an impact. Highlighted in pink, in the small Bible that I received from my parents upon starting college, is the following text:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34, OSB)

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Mari’s diagnosis, as I’ve mentioned before, has taught us that some days are just about enduring the day as it comes. Many times, as we have prepared for sleep, have been about being grateful for just making it another day, and adding another day to the life experience pool. In working with youth, I have noticed that a lot of kids have a lot of fear about their future not working out as they predicted it would be. Many high schoolers are over-involved, and are pushed to be involved in as many things as possible, out of the fear that they might be seen as ordinary, unexceptional, or less-than-A-plus. Their fear of rejection, or the plan not lining up, ultimately pulls them away from the plan.

Tito Colliander, in his book The Way of the Ascetics, stressed the importance of fighting the urges we face by doing the opposite of them:

It is the life of our will that is destroyed. Since the Fall the will has been running errands exclusively for its own ego. For this reason our warfare is directed against the life of self-will as such. And it should be taken without delay or wearying. If you have the urge to ask something, don’t ask! If you have the urge to drink two cups of coffee, drink only one! If you have the urge to look at the clock, don’t look! If you wish to smoke a cigarette, refrain! If you want to go visiting, stay home!

Colliander and Berry are both suggesting the same thing: don’t give into the urge to be in control. Being fearful and trying to predict the future is something that is so ingrained in society, that Berry’s words are strikingly radical. As much as I want to say that my child will have everything in place, and she will lead an incredible life, I cannot predict what will happen in her life. I cannot even predict what may take place on my birthday. But I have the ability to say no to trying to call the uncallable.

So with that in mind, I have to ask the following questions:

How does my fear of the future affect my daily life?

How can I make small changes to reverse that fear?

What are some ways to turn that fear into prayer?