About the Meaning of Life and Continuous Complaining

I like people! (That’s right, I do not watch TV!) I like to talk to them, listen to them, see how they enjoy … But like any man, I have my limits! I do not like after the third or fourth episode of wailing, on the same subject, to listen to them. It gives me a sense of helplessness!

As much as I try to encourage them, to squeeze my brains to find solutions, there are simply some who have a problem for each solution. That’s very daunting, even for me, which I like to consider myself an optimist.

The worse part is that, sometimes, I agree with them. Life seems, at some point, a long line of events, seemingly meaningless. And if you have a little time “to analyze the problem,” you start asking yourself some “easy” questions: “Why do we live? What’s the meaning of life? De we appear from a mere accident, as evolutionary biologists say, or lif is more than what happens to us? ”

For Christians, it is simpler to answer such questions, because they believe in the creation of the world by an Almighty Creator. Therefore, if we accept that we were created by an infinite Intelligence, then it means that our existence must also have a meaning. But which one? How can we find out the meaning of our life?

One of the profound passages of the Bible, which we usually overlook, was uttered by Christ when He asked His disciples to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane even before He was caught. The words spoken by Him in those moments are a true map to the meaning of our existence: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 26, verse 41).

I know it is not one of the quotations full of “Asian” wisdom. But do not be disappointed! At first glance, it is very difficult to accept that such a text may contain fundamental truths for our existence. But it is the reality!

His message is very clear. What happens to us in life seems to be impossible to control, but we have total control over how we react to situations outside us.

Christ was to be arrested by the people at the temple, tortured, mocked, and then unjustly, to suffer one of the most painful and degrading deaths that they knew at that time in the Roman Empire. And He was perfectly aware of this.

The fact that He prays to God the Father to find a way to escape all these trials (the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 22, verse 42) shows that He was neither unconscious nor masochistic. He simply accepted what was happening to Him due to His love for man and all creation.

So He was the One who gave this sense to His existence!

Everything was possible, because in those trials He chose to go all the way, and not to give up Who He was. It was His Spirit that determined the body to pass through all these trials and the one who transformed reality through the Sacrifice.

It’s not a myth, it’s not a metaphor of some fishermen from two thousand years ago, it’s not an invention! Is the truth! And this truth has been lived by countless people throughout history and will, probably, be lived by many others until the end of the world.

Suffering, if you know how to overcome it, ennobles you and makes you rise above the moment. It helps you transform, evolve. It helps you to give another meaning to your life.

One of the best known examples in this regard is that of the survivors of the Nazi torture camps. Victor E. Frankl, the founder of the third Viennese school of psychotherapy – logotherapy, was one of them. During the time he was captive, it was subjected to the most terrible suffering man can cause to man.

His book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, is a tremendous testimony of suffering and a hymn dedicated to the meaning of life. Here, we find one of the most interesting statements about the purpose of life in general and of each of us in particular.

And such a testimony is worthy of consideration, because it comes from a man who, at one time, had all the reasons not to live. He did not know anything about his family, the manuscript he had worked on all his life before was lost, and he was locked in a Nazi camp.

There, in one of the most severe states of human degradation, he understood how powerful man is, because, even in suffering, he is the master of his destiny. He had no reason to be upset about the fate, the Universe, God, or the soldier who was oppressing him. This would not have helped him with anything! It would not have given him a new meaning of life in any way.

He chose to live! He chose to hope and do everything in his power to survive those horrors. He simply took every day as a new chance. And it worked!

Released from detention, He chose to do something useful with his life! So, he dedicated himself to helping those who were suffering. A truly noble act, which happened, because a man understood that only he and no one else could give meaning to his life!

But how do we make our lives meaningful or how do we discover the meanings of our existence?

Victor Frankl speaks about three ways:

1) to create, to do something;

2) to be in a relationship with someone;

3) by suffering.

We’ll start with the third way – suffering. You must realize it is not absolutely necessary. If we are not going through a dreadful situation, there is no point in causing this suffering. If we deliberately caused our suffering, we would be masochists!

If we go through a terrible suffering, we can give meaning to our lives by the way how we react to what is happening to us. With the help of God, we can rise above the suffering. We can transform ourselves! We can evolve!

For more information, click here.

The second way to find the meaning of life is to cultivate relationships. If man isolates himself, his life is lost. Its existence makes sense only in communion with others. Whether we are talking about friends, relationships between parents and children or brothers, or about the closeness of lovers, all these experiences can be defined as love in its various forms.

It is love that, in one way or another, gives meaning to our lives. It has the power to give, to transform and to last. It has the power to make us eternal. By love we are exalted and we exalt the others. By love, we approach God.

For more information, click here.

If we are not, however, able to do so, we can give meaning to our lives by the footprint we leave in the world – by what we do or by what we create. The great explorers, the inventors, the artists, the great people of the world who have transformed history – all of them have given their lives meanings that inspired generations. They are our heroes!

For more information click here.

So, our life has a meaning! And we are the ones who create it!

Now, let’s resume the words of Christ: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Watching refers to the awareness of our reality and identity. It is to understand who we are, what is our stage of evolution, what qualities, what defects we have and what we want in life. It also means to be mindful of what is happening around us and to understand the world we live in.

Prayer has always been the way man communicates directly with God. There, in the depths of our souls, this dialogue gives us strength because it invites God into our lives, and His presence strengthens us.

These two experiences, watchfulness and prayer, help us not to fall into temptation. It helps us to progress. It helps us transform the reality, giving it other meanings.

If we have this ability and understand that our souls shape the reality in which we live, then certainly we will not try to play the victim role and we will not seek to blame anyone for what happens to us. Simply, we will have the power to go further, for God will be with us!

Consequently, we do not have any reason to complain about what’s happening to us. Even if we suffer, we can exalt ourselves above our momentary condition. No matter how heavy the loss is, it is not insurmountable. Surely, others have gone through what we’re going through and moved on. Because they chose this!

If we constantly complain, we do not give an authentic meaning to our lives. We simply ask for attention because, most of the time, we mistaken attention with love. If we really want to have love, we must love first. That’s what God does! He loves us first, and we respond to His love (John’s First Epistle, chapter 4, verse 19).

Perhaps our sufferings (a broken fingernail, a super expensive garment that now we cannot afford for the moment, our favorite team losing a game etc.) don’t have the transforming power of the sufferings of the martyrs, of prisoners in concentration camps or even of prisoners in communist prisons.

Maybe we do not have the extraordinary capacities of those who have transformed the world or turned it into something better!

But we certainly have the ability to establish relationships, to love. We have the capacity to transform our lives and others into an authentic communion.

We have the power to give this meaning to our lives!

P.S. 1: I’m sure you have something to thank God for! Please make a list of the first 5 things of this kind and keep it closely! When you have the feeling that things do not work the way you want, look at this list! It helps! Enormously!

P.S. 2: Is it true that those who complain all the time experience a long row of misfortunes or is it just an appearance? What do you think?

Please write your thoughts in the comments section!

St. Nicholas, between gifts and rods

Now, it sounds funny to me. Very funny! But at the age when I thought the candy came straight from the store, it was not funny at all. Every time, in the Santa Nicholas’ Eve, in addition to the carefully placed gifts in a boot, I received, in the other boot, a rod, a carrot or onion (These last two items were part of my father’s personal touch!). This thing repeated so rigorously, year after year, that I came to believe that I had two boots, precisely because, in one, Santa Nicholas had to place his rods.

Therefore, I decided to unravel mysteries such as: “Why does Santa Nicholas come with gifts? And if he is such a positive character, why does he bring up the rods?” So, after many years and an impressive collection of rods of all shapes and sizes, I managed to get the answers I was looking for. Here’s what I found out!

St. Nicholas is, in fact, a mythological figure inspired by the great personality of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Mira (Myra) in the Lichia Province (from today’s Turkey) in the first part of the fourth century. This saint was known in the Christian tradition, first of all, because of his generosity.

For more information, please click here.

It is said that, when he was a bishop of Mira, one evening, as he strolled through the city, the saint would have heard through the open window of a house a father who had three daughters and had no money to support his family. Therefore, he was planning to force the elder daughter to become a prostitute. To prevent this, on the second evening, Saint Nicholas threw a money bag in the yard of that family. When the father found that small fortune, he used it to marry the elder daughter and gave her the money as dowry.

The same happened to the second daughter. After that, the father of the girls wanted to know who the mysterious benefactor was and lurked out the window. When St. Nicholas threw the third money bag, the father ran after him and thanked him. Normally, despite the saint’s wish that his deed should not be publicly known, this wasn’t the case, and his example was followed by other Christians. They cast various gifts in the yards of the needy during the night. And so, a beautiful Christian tradition has emerged that has been preserved until today.

Okay, well, that explains why gifts are given in the boots during the night from December 5 to December 6. But that does not clarify in any way the mystery of the rods that children receive as a reward for their “goodness” over the year.

The answer is given to us, also, by all the Christian tradition that speaks of St. Nicholas as a very fiery defender of the true faith. On the occasion of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325, the teaching of faith concerning the Person of the Savior Jesus Christ was clarified, and the Arian heresy was repelled. During the debates, Saint Nicholas, angry with the naughty behavior of the heretic Arius, would have given him a slap.

Since such behavior is not worthy of a Christian, much less of a bishop, the other parents who took part in the sessions of the synod decided to depose St. Nicholas from the bishop’s rank. But during the night, many of the participants in the synod had a vision in which Christ and His mother, Virgin Mary, praised the saint’s deed and gave him back the Gospel and homophore as a sign of restoring the episcopal dignity. Based on this happening, it was concluded that Santa Nicholas can also bring other “gifts” in the form of rods, which can be used to straighten the least conformist ones.

So the fact that Saint Nicholas saved the father’s daughters from a decadent life has remained a model of Christian life that must be copied by each of us whenever we have the opportunity to do so. In the end, imitation of a saint’s way of life truly means honoring him.

Also, the fact that, in addition to gifts, rods have found their way through history to the present day, it tells us that we need to be careful about our attitude and correct it as often as possible. After all, we cannot always be right. So, it is good not to give anyone the opportunity to copy the other pattern of St. Nicholas’ behavior.

As you realize, such a response cannot compensate for all the anxieties caused by the childhood rods. But it does not matter anymore! Over them a layer of forgetfulness was laid like snowflakes enveloped with their white cloak the frozen ground of winter. But the joy of every morning of December 6th remains! And it made me realize that Santa Nicholas is not just for children, he comes for everyone. As long as we exist, we still have hidden, somewhere in our souls, glimpses of the joy of the past. And these sparks are too valuable not to be turn into fires!

So, go quickly and polish your boots! And if you know that Santa Nicholas cannot reach everyone, give him a hand and try to act on his behalf. At least this time! I have a feeling that Santa will not be upset and even reward you.

P.S .: Let Santa bring the rods, and if you cannot avoid such a mission, you can plant them and hang a label with the message “From Santa Nicholas”. Over the years, they will become fully-grown trees and the impact will be even stronger.

One more thing, if you liked this article or considered it relevant, please share it!

What is your plan?

Life passes very quickly by us! It simply happens! We have to face all kinds of challenges without being able to control them. But we, still, can do something about it! We can decide how to respond to everything that happens to us. And, for that, we need a plan! Not a plan regarding what we want to have, but a plan regarding who we want to be! A plan about us, based on which we can write the story of our lives!

Each of us has some temporary landmarks and each one has a meaning, whether it’s a special event in our life or a community celebration. But, beyond these meanings, our landmarks tell us that time passes.

If you are like me, you probably ask yourself, at the beginning of every December, how another year has just passed by. You had so much to do, but you simply did not have enough time. On the other hand, life seems to be quite monotonous. We go to our jobs from  Monday to Friday, weekend comes and, after that, we repeat the whole thing over and over again. And during this “movie” there are also some “advertising breaks” – holidays and short vacations. But, is that all? Is that what life means? Or maybe life is trying to tell us something and we miss the message.

I remember the lessons from the seminary and the theology faculty. There, we were told that God had had a plan with the whole world before it was created. That is, before time even existed. And then we also were told that an important part of this plan was the free will of created beings, which means that they can determine their own destiny, their way in life.

Of course, there is always the question: If God has planned everything, can we talk about free will? The answer is: “YES!” (In capital letters)! The fact that God established natural laws and left men as masters of the seen creation does not mean that he left the world by itself and “withdraw” into His infinity. Also, it doesn’t mean that He controls our minds transforming us into small robots depending on a “software” implanted in ours beings since birth.

In my opinion, the strongest proof that God had a plan with the world from the beginning is the book of Revelations itself. Here, the end of the world, as we know it, is presented to us. The most interesting part is that we are not told when the end will be, but just how it will happen.

Therefore, it is important to ask whether we, endowed with free will, have a plan for our lives. I’m not talking about those things that most of us dream about with open eyes in the eve of the most difficult exams. There, it’s about money, cars, homes, holidays, gorgeous clothes, etc., that is, in general, what is assimilated to the success in our consumer society. I am referring to the true plan, which reveals our true personality. The plan of who we want to become, the imprint we want to leave in the world, the way we want the world to remember us.

If you have not had time to think of such a plan, then I propose an imaginative exercise. Let’s say you were the storyteller and not the main hero of your life. How would you want it to happen? And, especially, how would you want it to end? What impression would you like your audience to have after seeing this movie?

If it’s still hard, then, I have a suggestion. In his book, “The 7 Habits of Effective People,” Stephen Covey proposes an imaginative exercise with deep emotional impact. He asks us to imagine that we are witnessing our own funeral and that they invited four people to talk about us: a relative, a friend, one of the people we have worked with in our profession, and a member of the community we had lived in. What would you like them to say about you? How would you like them to describe you?

I know! It’s not an impression, it’s a rough exercise indeed! But so it’s life! It simply happens! It passes by and we are bombarded with all sorts of events we have no control over. And we must, somehow, find a way to go through these challenges and, like the heroes from the fairy tales, at the end, we have to be able to smile!

That is why, we must learn to tell the story of our lives. We have to imagine it and think of all sorts of endings and choose the one that suits us best. And then let’s start telling it! As many times as possible! Because the stories have something magical, something that can not be explained, only noticed. If they are told many times, they transform the one who tells them. Because, every time, the story of each of us will reveal new meanings and will help us to learn new lessons.

Thus, we will understand that, in God’s plan for the world, there can be integrated the plans that we each think for our lives. This is because God conceived the world as a communion of beings who are attracted through love to Him. Consequently, the story of every person who loves becomes a smaller story that is part of the great story of God’s love for entire creation. And the end of this story always is “they lived happily ever after”, because the one who loves is in communion with God, and communion with God means that death is not the end of the story, but the fact that the story is happily continued in another realm of existence.

It has been said about Christian religion that it teaches man how to die, and for this he must be prepared. Being able to choose the end for the story of his life! So, have you figured out how you want your lives to be? Do you know the goals that define you as spiritual persons and not just as material ones? What is the end you want for your stories?

P.S .: Wait, do not answer yet! The following story might give you some ideas!

One day, a young man who wanted to learn to write books came to his mentor and saw him with three things on his desk – a handwritten note, a cartoon CD, and a trophy from a tournament polo riding. Curiously, he asked him what he needed them for. The writer told him that those objects helped him write the book he was working on. Then the young man asked him why he did not simply write it down. After all, he was recognized for his imagination and talent.

Then the writer explained that on the note it was written: “I’m not writing a book. I’m not even writing a chapter. But I know I can tell a story, and if I say enough stories, I’ll write a chapter, and if I keep telling stories, I’ll have enough chapters for a book.” Thus, the note helped him to divide his task into something easy and funny. Therefore, he was focused on small tasks, but he was looking at an important goal.

The cartoon was about a character who had just finished writing its autobiography, when a lightning stroke his computer and all his work until then was lost. In the final scene, the character was with its fingers on the keyboard of a new computer and, resigned, said “Let’s get to the abridged version”! This cartoon was meant to remind the writer that although he might have a clear objective and have a very precise plan to achieve it, life was full of challenges. So, regardless of the obstacles, it was important for the writer not to give up and to understand that, in fact, trouble also came with important lessons.

The third object, the polo-riding trophy, was telling him two things. The first one remembered him that he did not like to clean the mess of his horse, although it took him only 15 minutes. One day, when he complained about it, a colleague laughed and said, “You are willing to spend hours in the saddle in a polo tournament that can last for two days, but you are not willing to spend 15 minutes for hygiene of your horse?” He was right! We do not do only what we like in life, but we have to keep our attention focused on purpose.

The second thing the polo trophy told meant that success was possible. The team of the writer was not the best, and he and his colleagues participated in the competitions because they liked the game. Therefore, the trophy came as a surprise. It told them that by doing what you like, you can become victorious, and that in success there was, however, the chance of pleasure[1].

[1] Adaptation from George W. Burns, 101 poveşti vindecătoare pentru adulţi, trad. Daniela Ştefănescu, Editura Trei, București, 2012, pp. 287-290.

On Dreams

It is very good to dream with your eyes wide open. It is something that helps us to discover those desires that motivate us and make us evolve. It’s about the foundation of our tomorrow’s goals! But what happens when we do not dream? When we no longer know what dream to choose? I’ve consulted a dream “guru” and I’ve learnt quite interesting things.

My daughter is only 4 years old. And, although she’s very young, she’s the prettiest, the smartest, the best … person I know, because she’s … my daughter. But, beyond these extraordinary qualities, she has a quality that goes far beyond everything. She never stops to amaze me.

On her birthday, she received a gift – Doc McStuffins’ tool kit (Those who do not know who this fascinating character is, are asked to study its biography on Disney Junior channel). Suddenly, her universe changed. She no longer wanted to be Princess Sofia (Evidently, in this case also, you will find biographical references on Disney Junior!) but Doc McStuffins. This sudden change intrigued me and I tried to find out more.

– Do you not want to be Princess Sofia anymore?

– No, I’m the Doc McStuffins!

– Well, yesterday, you wanted to be Princess Sofia.

– No, I’m the Doc McStuffins!

– And why do you want to be Doc McStuffins?

– Because I want to heal Lambie!

How ‘deep’, right? And yet … full of profound lessons! I think I managed to squeeze a few drops from the source of wisdom that is my daughter – this guru of dreaming with open eyes.

1. Dreams change. They are no longer the same as they were a while ago. They progress or regress according to our spiritual progress, life experience, what we have studied and so on. In short, they say a lot about who we are! After a time, when my daughter had dreamed to be Princess Sofia, she decided to be someone else – Doc McStuffins!

2. Dreams depend greatly on our sources of inspiration. As I said before, the environment we live in, the education, the people we admire and our mentors are the sources of our dreams. Therefore, it is very important how we choose our “idols” or mentors. Are they relevant examples for us? Would we like to copy their personalities entirely or just parts of them? I’m glad my daughter watches Disney Junior. (At least for now.) I’m going to start worrying when she becomes preoccupied with TV channels that broadcast music videos or, worse, talk-shows about politics.

3. A child’s dream aim to do good to others. Whether it is an activity that helps others or simply something that contributes to creating a better world, a child’s dreams do not mean to harm anybody. They want to do something good, they want to know the others are happy and especially they do not want to enjoy only themselves by fulfilling their dreams. That’s why my daughter wants to be a doctor for “healing Lambie.” (How cool this is!)

4. Dreams are action-centered. We’re not going to see kids wanting to laze all day, even if it’s on a hammock, on a beach form a Caribbean island. They want to do something concrete. They want to act. They want to transform, to modify, and to create. Because action brings that sense of fulfillment, that they have accomplished something. It is very hard to watch a child when he is living his dream. For example, even the most efficient ambulance service in the world does not intervene more promptly than my daughter, when the red bulb announcing Lambie’s suffering is lit. Once it is healed, she is the happiest! (And I hope the Lambie’s batteries run out soon!)

5. A child’s dreams are based on the resources at hand. Each surrounding object has the magic quality of turning itself into something extraordinary that makes you escape into a realm of fantasy that we, the grownups, have forgotten. However, they are only simple objects. To dream, a child doesn’t need things he doesn’t have, which are not in his grasp. He is much anchored in the surrounding reality. From here, he goes on his imaginary journey. Practically, to be happy in his world, everything that is accessible to him is all he needs! My daughter uses her imagination to create princess cloaks, doctor gowns, royal crowns, scepters, etc. She does not ask for anything extra. If she doesn’t have a specific object, she draws it, colors it, cuts it and continues to live her dream. (This principle is especially valuable for parents who have no money left and until the next salary time is measured in centuries.)

6. Dreams must be ours! My daughter does not want to be anything but what she wants. In vain we, Daddy and Mommy, try to tell her that she can be someone else. She just does not want to. And it is normal to be so. It’s her dreams. God has created us unique, so it is normal for our dreams to be unique. They might resemble others, but they will never be the same. (Those who do not believe me I wish them good luck in succeeding to convince my daughter to be Princess Sofia again!)

7. To make us happy, the dreams must be fulfilled, and for this we have to act. Children do this naturally. They do not analyze the pros and cons, they do not think whether it is possible or not, they do not make super detailed plans which will never be put into practice. No! Simply, they live their dream! If a little girl wants to become a princess, the next moment she finds something to be turned into a princely cloak. If a boy wants to become a Superman, we have a pretty clear idea of ​​how he will dress. (That’s why I’m quite happy that my daughter does not consider Lady Gaga as her idol and doesn’t try to copy her clothes! But that’s another story.)

8. If our dreams do not satisfy us anymore, we must move on. Children don’t hesitate when it comes to start a new dream, a new adventure. If the dream from 5 minutes ago has been fulfilled and it does not produce the same amount of happiness, the child will simply seek another dream. He will not wonder about “what might have happened if …” He will go on. He will seek another dream, and he will live that one as well. That is why, for a child, life is always very diverse, even though from the exterior it seems monotonous, repetitive.

So now, Mom and I are waiting to see what our daughter’s next dream will be. But we’re trying to be proactive! That’s why I ask those who are parents of teenage girls to tell us the main rules of survival for the time when the fantastic characters that will inspire our daughter will dwell on MTv Channel!

Until then, do not forget to have dreams and live them. I am sure that once they are fulfilled, they will become memories that will make you smile and inspire you to move on. No matter where you want to go!

Are you afraid of failure?

You cannot win any competition if you do not participate and under no circumstances can you become stronger if you do not face obstacles or challenges. However, many of us ignore these universal laws and are no longer evolving. One reason is precisely the fear of failure – one of our allies that we turned into enemies!

I have often heard that “it is not worthwhile” to complete a certain project, because the effort and the risks are too great. Some even said it was impossible, because if it had been possible, others would have succeeded so far! Many times we are able to cope with such “encouragements” that come from outside and find arguments against them. Some very pertinent! But what happens when those who tell us these paralyzing things are ourselves? And this process does not necessarily happen consciously. Are we still as capable of dealing with these mental barriers?

Fear of failure is real! It is not one of the monsters invented by Hollywood screenwriters to keep us in front of the screens. No! It is one of those feelings that, at first, seem so gentle and harmless, and, later, turn into chains that are getting heavier. These chains are more dangerous because they do not cling; they are not visible and prevent us from evolving. They keep us in the past and make us believe that past victories give us the right to ask for more without investing any effort.

Fear of failure occurs inevitably every time we have a dream, a vision of our future where everything is better than today! It appears when we are about to start a major project and if we leave it, it will accompany us all the way to success. It will follow us step by step and will simply tell us that “it is not possible”, that “it is not worth it”, and that “we will fail”, or “the others will lose their respect for us” and that “we will never be able to restore our reputation.”

These are no new things! Surely, everyone has heard these sayings! So we wonder where and why they come from.

Causes

Perhaps, it is simpler to blame God, like we do most of the time, because He has not created us stronger from the beginning! But the fear of failure is something that, ultimately, belongs to us and is triggered by what we want! It is not God’s fault if we want to learn to play the violin and we fear that our friends will laugh at us when we will go together with a 6 year old kid to an instructor for beginners. At least “this time,” God cannot be blamed!

Then, maybe, we should blame the devil, what do you say? Is not he the deceiver? Is not he the one who is constantly fighting for the spreading of evil into the world? But if we go along this path, we must also accept that the devil works “with the material of the client”. That, in fact, he is the one who distorts reality so that evil can appear to us as a good thing. If we did not offer him that fear of ours, he would have no influence over us.

Consequently, if we want to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the fear of failure is a feeling that only belongs to us! And if it comes from the dark side of our mind, it means we can have control over it! That we can defeat it!

If we think better, we should not be afraid of fear! Fear is a useful feeling! God has endowed us with it in order to be careful, so that we do not become unprepared in the face of dangers. Therefore, a man who tells us that he has no fear should be looked upon with suspicion! The courageous ones are not those who have no fear, but those who have learned to control it!

Therefore, in the end, the fear of failure should be a good thing. It is a kind of fear that determines us to prepare as much as we can before starting a project and to take into account the risks that may arise. It’s an ally! The difficulties appear when this feeling takes control over our initiatives and blocks them! So, if you’ve been postponing a goal for too long, because it feels too difficult for you to do, and you are afraid of being criticized if you do not succeed, you are afraid of failure.

From my point of view, the fear of failure comes from pride and laziness. Pride tells us, “I am someone and I cannot afford to fail! If I fail, my reputation will suffer”.  Well, those who have succeeded in life have taken the risk of being ridiculed! Thomas Edison is the best example. He tried 1000 times before he invented the light bulb!

The great basketball player Michael Jordan never hesitated during the crucial moments of the game to take the ball and throw it into the basket. He was the captain of the team and it was his duty! Even if he sometimes missed and the team lost important matches because of him, he assumed these defeats. He certainly did not like to lose, but it did not scare him either. Later, he would recognize, the shots that made him evolve were the missed balls at the crucial moments of the game.

Pride also appears in another form! “Why start this project? That would mean I have to change! Does that mean I’m not good as I am?“ Sure you are! But you can be better! And you have the duty to make yourself better constantly! In your own rhythm! It is important that you never lose sight of the fact that life’s purpose is not to live in the past, endlessly reminding you of victories from another time!

If you only do this, you are wasting the gifts that God has endowed you with! I mean, you’re lazy! Usually lazy people come with their version of fear of failure. “I am good as I am! Why should I put so much effort into something that might not succeed in order to work afterwards to recover? ”

Businessmen, army leaders, heads of state, all are forced to make complicated decisions. Therefore, they decide to take advantage of certain opportunities, and to reject others. But they are aware that no matter what they do, there will be consequences that involve risks, which they take into account. Which they assume!

We do the same, but on a much smaller scale. And we choose to do or not do things. But if we do not put to a good use the gifts with which we have been endowed by God, over time, we are consumed by remorse when we feel and know that we should evolve and we hesitate.

Practically, we want progress, but we want it without being willing to make efforts and without taking risks. We want it without our pride being hurt and without our image being affected. And, because we are afraid to start, we would like the world to stand still. To wait for us! But this is not right! God created us for greatness, for endless progress, and, through our constant hesitation, we fight against His will.

In addition, envy appears. It does not bother me that I live badly, as long as you live as bad as I am or even worse. Why? Because when you have a better life, you put pressure on me, you get me out of my comfort zone! Indirectly, you tell me the truth about me: “It can be done and is worth it! And you, instead of making an effort to motivate yourself for success, you have made the same effort, even greater, to create in your mind barriers to protect you from “failure.”

This is the bad news! But, as usual, there is good news too! And the most important thing is that the fear of failure can be overcome! For some it is more difficult, for others it will be easier, but each of us can defeat it.

The most important example is the fact that we are walking. The child, when he learns to walk, falls and rises, falls and rises, falls and rises … and repeats this behavior until he can walk and even run. He does not give up after the first falls, although he can hurt himself. He has a goal and is not discouraged! He, simply, goes ahead!

Remedies

Each of us has everything one needs to overcome this fear of failure. But, somewhere along the way, it gets stronger than it should, and that’s because we let that happen.

Because the fear of failure arises out of pride, it can be overcome by the opposite of the latter, by humility, which involves asking for help from God and others. Saints are examples of humility, because they are no longer afraid of failure. They know it is in the human nature to fall and rise. They accept that they might be wrong and, therefore, it makes no sense to be proud.

But, unlike us, they continue to progress. They know that God will forgive them every time, if they do not despair and do not stop from their spiritual ascension! Therefore, no matter how long they will be tempted by the devils, by the world or by their own mind, they will continue their spiritual journey! And that makes them winners!

Practically, you fail only when you stop doing what you have proposed!

We also have to be aware that the failure also has its good parts! It tests our character; it erases our pride and helps us to value what we have achieved and what we have become throughout our lives. Failure helps us to understand that if everything is easy, we will not cherish anything!

That is why, the first step to control our fear of failure is to begin to capitalize on what we want to become. If we do not understand that what we want is valuable, because it is difficult to achieve, we cannot win.

We must prepare our minds to understand that the difficulty involves temporary failures and pains! You cannot grow your muscles without hurting! You cannot learn mathematics without bothering your head with more complex problems and you cannot learn judo without falling!

Then, it is important to believe that we can do what we propose. If, so far, we have lived according to the dictum “I will believe, when I see!” we have to change our mentality and we have to follow the “I will see when I believe” principle! The fact that we can fly by plane is due precisely to “dreamers” who first thought they could fly and then they make their dream come true.

Today, much of psychological training of the elite athletes is focused on mentally viewing the victory. Yes! The great athletes of the world, firstly, see themselves as winners, after that they believe this in their whole being, and, then, this vision becomes a prophecy that fulfill itself. Basically, they are programming themselves for success!

But it is not enough just to dream! We have to make an effort too! In order not to give to the mind time to wander, it is advisable to impose a routine that does not give time to the fear of failure to manifest itself. In military barracks or athletes’ training camps, everything is scheduled to the second. You do not have much time for yourself and your thoughts. And the results speak for themselves. The mind is focused on what to do, and the fear of failure simply does not have time to appear! It is replaced by action!

For this, it is important to change our environment and entourage. Let us eliminate the temptations that make us have habits we do not want and introduce those stimuli that make us trigger the desired behaviors. If you do not want to watch TV so often and start reading at least the books of childhood, I think it would be a good idea to take the TV out of the house and install a bookcase in its place. But if you do not have any books in your house and most of your acquaintances have read only Christmas cards in the last year, then it is recommended that you do something about it.

In the end, everything is quite simple: we must recognize that the fear of failure exists in all people and that it can be controlled. For this, it is important to accept that we are human and that we are subjected to mistakes. That means we have to be humble. Let us be willing to ask for help and inspire ourselves from those who have succeeded. They will show us that failure is just a part from the road to success.

In addition, we must know that God has created us for progress, and if we do not evolve, it means we do not fulfill His will. Everyone has his own rhythm of development and, therefore, what matters is never to stop. Fear of failure is not a solution, it is another obstacle! And this obstacle can be overcome! None of those who have succeeded in life said it was easy! But none of them said it was impossible!

You have to bear in mind that the quiet sea does not make skilled sailors! And if you, however, are wrecked, look to heaven and you will understand that if what you have proposed is not against the will of God, you will receive help!

Does it worth it to be better?

We try to become better every day or at least so we like to think about us. But what is the purpose? What are we trying to achieve if we only want to become stronger, smarter, richer? Do these things make us “happier”?

Let’s do an imaginative exercise! Where do you want to be in five years? In ten years? In 25 years? But in 50 years? I am not a prophet, but I suspect that most of us see themselves in a villa at seaside (or at a mountain), surrounded by loved ones in an atmosphere of joy and prosperity! And… that’s it! Few are those who see themselves helping others, or who want their work to change the destiny of the few less happy than them or who want to be remembered for something important that they have done for others.

Perhaps it is the fault of our education system where we are encouraged not to work with our colleagues; otherwise, our grades will no longer be relevant. Perhaps, we have been through hard times and no one helped us and we had to find by ourselves the “way to the light” or, simply, we were single children, we benefited from the undivided attention of our parents and we never knew that, besides us, there are others.

Whatever the reasons, one thing is certain: many of us conceive their lives in an atmosphere of isolation. They and, sometimes, a few close ones versus the rest of the world.

There have been all sorts of situations where history has shown us that such an approach is not the right one, because it can bring much suffering and destruction. The most prominent example is that of the Nazis proclaiming that the Aryan race is superior to the others and that it needs vital space to develop. That is why, from their point of view, war was needed to provide the race with the necessary resources for development. We all know what followed!

But, besides this pattern of evolution, there were others that stimulated communion, a connection with others, even beyond time. One such example is that of the ancient Egyptians who considered the human soul to have four components. One of them was the “ran” (the name) that could survive as long as the one passed in the Osiris’ kingdom was mentioned by the next generations.

This was done by descendants who had the duty to keep alive the memory of the ancestors and by great deeds that made others talk about you. That is why one of the greatest punishments one could receive was his name to be removed by hammer from the stone plates where it was carved.

Also, in Christianity, one speaks of remembering one’s name with a similar meaning. To be mentioned by God (Psalm 6, verse 5, Psalm 24, verse 8) is equivalent to living eternally, because God is not a god of the dead but of the living (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 22, verse 32; Gospel according to Luke, chapter 20, verse 38).

It seems that, thousands of years ago, people had another perception of the world, of the role people can have in the universe, and of the way they should behave. Now, that we know these things, let’s ask ourselves: “What would be the reasons we would like those who know us to remember us?” or “When someone talks about us, which is the first thing we want to come into her/his mind?”

Whatever the answer may be, I think the one that brings you more joy is the one who enables you to help as many people as you can. And, in order for this vision to be materialized, you have to act differently than you have done so far. You do not want to earn just as much as you need to have a good plentiful life for you and your close ones! Propose yourself to make the difference, to leave something behind!

I’m sure that if you belong to a corporate team, you’ve heard this phrase thousands of times. But no one has told you so far how to do this, how to make the difference. Probably, because nobody knows. However, because it’s about our lives and what we want to do with them, we should be able to find a solution. That is why the recommendation is to ask yourself first “why?”. Why do I want to make others remember me? Why would they remember me?

Take your time! You will find answers to these questions sooner or later! Then, ask yourself “how?” How do I want to help? How should I act? And, once you have the answer to this type of question, it will come to your mind and “what” to do.

But, we are human, and our capacities are limited. How can we make the things we’ve done to impact on as many people as possible? Simple! Just share it with others! If scientists or inventors, after making the long-awaited discoveries, would have kept the information just for them, would the world’s life had been better? Of course not!

So, whenever you succeed, come back and pull someone else after you. Christ, after the resurrection, has not abandoned us! He did not disappear from history. On the contrary, He returned to us and continued to inspire others by His example and to show them the way to a new life. He did not keep anything for Him, but He gave and continues to give from the plenty of His life to others!

But there remains a question: if it is so easy, and at least some people have known these things for thousands of years, why are they not applied on a large scale? Why did we prefer to kill each other in the course of history and, as a “bonus”, to affect the planet?

No one said it was easy! However, perhaps the worst thing in this process of our transformation  is that we have given up before we started. We preferred to live a rich life rather than be happy. Simply, we confused the satisfaction of everyday needs with happiness.

When you hesitate to do something important, you do not start not because you miss something, but because you do not realize that the fruit of anything that is good in life begins with a challenge.

Beyond the things you do not like, there is happiness. Christ speaks to us about the narrow path that most of us ignore and, instead, we choose the large path that everyone is following (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 7, verses 13-14). It is certainly easier, it seems even safer, but is that what we need? Are we all the same? Do we all have the same destiny in life?

Of course not! Because God did not make us robots. He did not do us in accordance with one singular mold. Otherwise, there would be no point in Him giving us the freedom to choose for ourselves, to have our own will to decide our destiny. We are, to a large extent, the product of the genes received from our forefathers, our education and life experience, and the environment in which we live.

But what we will become is quite another story. It is determined, to a great extent, by our thoughts. Thoughts that mean the rational translation of a desire. Or many more! That’s what we are. Sensibility, reason, and free will to put them into practice.

So, let’s start with something small. With what we used to call during the school years a “good deed”. I found an anecdote in a work of a contemporary writer – “The Circulation of Good in Nature” – which I think is a good illustration of the impact we can have on our lives and on others, starting from the little joys of life. I wish it to inspire you!

It is said that a woman’s cactus bloomed after she had taken care of it for a few years. She went to work, and on the subway, thinking of her bloomed cactus, trampled on another traveler. She scolded her, but she did not react as usual. She simply told him she was wrong, and if he wanted, he could even trample on her feet and get even.

The man calmed himself, and, with high spirit, did not argue with the newspapers vendor who had given him the wrong change – “Leave it be, I also make mistakes when counting the money.”

After he left, the vendor did not return to the distributors the unsold press, but gave two magazines and a newspaper to an old man who liked to read, but who had not the money to buy better publications. In turn, when he saw on the block’s hallway his neighbor who lived above his apartment, he did not argue as usual: “Please, educate your child! She jumps like a horse all over the house and makes a lot of noise!​​” Instead, he told her “Hey! Your daughter has grown up! She will be very beautiful! Believe me; I have an eye for this.”

Astonished, after taking her child to kindergarten, the woman went to work at a clinic where she was a nurse. Here, she did not fight with the patient who had forgotten to come to the appointment the day before and told her “Do not worry! With the things going on in our lives, it’s normal to forget! I’m going to talk to the doctor to find out if he can see you.”

When she saw such an attitude, the patient did not use the replies she had prepared about complaints, about reporting to the journalists and even menacing with lawsuits at the Strasbourg Court of Justice. She even was realistic and told the doctor, “Doctor, I have exaggerated! I think I must understand that old age cannot be cured! Please forgive me”!

Thinking of the old woman and her wisdom, on his way home, the doctor bought his wife cakes and a bouquet of flowers. When he got home, he said, “This is how life lives passes by us. What’s the point in arguing like we’re kids? Look, I brought you flowers and cakes, but I think I crushed them with my portfolio! The cakes have the same taste, but I do not know if the flowers can be revived.” “We will put them in the water and wake them up!”, his wife said. After that, she kissed him and said, “Look, I forgot to tell you. My cactus has bloomed![1]

[1] Konstantin V. Zorin, Dacă puterile sunt pe sfârșite, translator Adrian Tănăsescu-Vlas, Sofia, București, 2015, pp. 117-119.

There Are No Magic Recipes

Not everyone who wants to be champion, super savvy or wealthy get to fulfill their dream. Why? Because success, in any field, involves following a simple, boring, and duplicable recipe: desire, sacrifice and hard work. Instead, they are looking for “magical recipes”, “shortcuts”, ways to bring them the same results, but without the effort. We wish them good luck!

Experience shows that in most cases, those who earn an impressive wealth overnight cannot keep it for long time. Why? Because, at that time, they do not have the knowledge or the mindset of a rich man. Rich people did not become rich by chance. They did not use magic shortcuts or recipes. And this is true in every field!

One of the greatest boxing champions of all time, Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) once said that “everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” It was a direct reference to the extreme effort that great performance implies. Perhaps many are talented, have everything they need physically, but they clink when they have to work almost indefinitely and respect a strict regimen to become champions.

This was the case of the people in heaven. They were there, they were endowed with everything they needed, they were in direct relationship with God, and they had at their disposal all eternity to progress morally. Success, in their case, meant closer communion with God, and extraordinary spiritual gifts.

But the devil tempted them with a magical recipe, with a shortcut: “The day that you eat of it (the tree stopped) will open your eyes and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis, chapter 3, verse 5 ). He did not tell them that you would become gods, but he only promised them that they would have one of the qualities that God has and they did not have. And yet, they thought it is worth it to break the God’s commandment. Why?

Perhaps, because it is a form of pride that appears as an inner dialogue: “I am smarter than the rest. They were not able to see the things that I understand. Therefore, the way I do things is better and I will prove them wrong “! At first sight, it seems normal. After all, is not this the way of progress, by challenging things, processes and realities? However, there is a difference between continuous improvement and this kind of pride.

When you want to progress, improve or innovate, you have to study. It is absolutely necessary to see how others have done it, why they did so, to wonder what has escaped them, to put your mind to work in order to learn what you could do faster and better, to do a lot of experiments and, only then, to come and show all the fruits of your work, and to be willing to accept criticism along with the credits.

Instead of following this recipe that has proven to be valid over and over again, those who are adept of magic prescriptions do not trouble themselves with all this effort. They simply want something quicker and better, because they “feel” they are smarter than others, and they deserve it. Consequently, they will cheat. But in order not to feel guilty, they will try to convince them and the others that they have not stolen, but have worked more “efficiently”, “more intelligently”.

I believe that the most important example in this regard is that of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is God, and yet to save us, He did not use a shortcut, did not use a magic recipe that He certainly knew. He went down to our level and became a man like us (Epistle to Philippians of Apostle Paul, chapter 2, verses 7-8). He did not suddenly deify His human nature, but lived on earth, was tempted (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 4, verses 1-11), suffered and died (Gospel according to John, chapter 19, verse 33) .

Had He not done all of this, His resurrection would not have the same result. It would have been the “shortcut”, the “magic recipe” that would have been useless. The human nature in Him would have had no way of progressing, had no way of reaching “the state of the perfect man” (Epistle to Ephesians of Apostle Paul, chapter 4, verse 13).

This must make us meditate, because, when it comes to salvation, we cannot cheat as well. I know! The case of the robber, who, after a life of transgressions, has “stolen” salvation at the last moment of his life, seems to contradict everything I have said so far. But in his case, it was no longer cheating, no more pride. He has turned honestly. He acknowledged his state of moral decay (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 23, verse 41), and probably, if he had lived, he would have radically changed his way of life.

The other robber was the follower of the quick, effortless solution. He did not acknowledge his decaying state, but rather considered himself intelligent, tempting even Christ with vain glory “Are not You the Christ? Save Yourself and Us “(Gospel according to Luke, chapter 23, verse 39). Why should Christ have saved him, what did he do different in the last moments of his sinful life, what would be the merit of that robber? None! And yet, he had no problem in asking Christ for salvation! Normally, God’s justice did not allow him to get it!

This episode of the Gospel according to Luke is interesting because it demonstrates that salvation or sanctification are the results of an inner transformation process that has stages which one cannot skip. Like the thief on the cross, we cannot become saints overnight, especially after we have spent a lifetime far from God. For this, we have to change our way of life, we must get out of the spiritual comfort zone and recognize, first of all, that we have sins and that we need help.

Any champion has at least one coach near him, not to mention the other professionals who assist him. That is why we must find our coaches, our guides. Whether they are mentors (people we admire for what they have done), whether they are spiritual fathers who can help us with their advice and prayer, we must accept this help and follow their instructions.

In order to be saved, we must believe in God and seek Him every day of our lives. God’s search does not just involve reading a religious book on the terrace of a café where they have extraordinary coffee in an afternoon with a superb sunset. This process involves the grinding of our soul through prayer (including participation in the services of the Church), the strengthening of our will by means of restraint (fasting) and deeds of mercy. We also do not have to be selfish! Therefore we must confess our belief to others when necessary. Because, by doing so we help them transform their lives as well.

Certainly, not all of us have the call to be preachers or great Christian writers. But there is no need for that. Each of us has at her/his disposal the most powerful means of communication – the personal example. We do not have to take a trumpet and go to the downtown square and preach. Simply, we have to “do our job of Christians,” to live the Christian way of life.

This will show the others that “it can be done”! That there is no magic recipe, but a way of life that everyone can duplicate. It entails falls, failures, doubts, and sufferings. But this is how the winners are born! And winners are not afraid to get out of their comfort zone, to work hard to overcome obstacles and to transform themselves. Because success does not have a magic recipe, but a simple one that we can repeat as well!

How much freedom do we have?

We are not free, or, better said, we are not totally free. In theory, we may do anything, anytime, anywhere, we are allowed unleash our potential and fly. Of course, there are some limits, but the theorists of freedom tell us those limits are very fragile and can always be pushed forward. So, it all depends on how we want to use this freedom. In theory!

In my opinion, we are a paradoxical generation. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you want to spend more time at home, because you are ill and you are afraid of not going to work because you will get less money and you cannot pay your mortgage; if you want to spend more time with your children, your parents, your friends, and even better, with your loved one, but you have to do overtime; if you want to tell somebody that you hear on television, on the street or at a party that she or he might be wrong and you cannot do that because it’s not politically correct, chances are you might agree with me.

People have wondered since ancient times what is good to do and what not; what is allowed to do and what not, in a word, what it means to be free? Over time, all kinds of definitions of freedom and all sorts of explanations have emerged. Some less accurate, some more precise, some of which people wanted to keep in mind and are still in use today, some of them so disturbing that they are overlooked whenever possible.

The first one of the most well-known definitions tells us that “my freedom ends where the other’s freedom begins.” From a philosophical point of view, it sounds good, but I do not understand what it is about. What do I do if the other is “freer than me,” that is, she or he has dome other forces on her/his side other than common sense? How extensive is my freedom then? After all, all totalitarian regimes say they offer “true” freedom, don’t they?

But, at least from a legal point of view, things seem clearer. Most of the modern legislative systems agree upon the fact that “freedom means doing everything you want, except those actions forbidden by the law.” So, if you want to see how free you are, it is useful to start reading as many laws as possible, and finally you’ll get an idea. But laws change over time. If not them, at least their interpretation. As a result, you may not be as free after returning from a vacation in another country.

Anyway, whatever point of view we choose, there is a pretty good chance we might come to the conclusion that others decide for us regarding how freedom we have. But what if we wanted to decide how free we may be? For those who do not want too much to think about the laws and the way the others behave, Oscar Wilde comes with a very practical solution. In the novel “Portrait of Dorian Gray,” he says it is good for the man “not to make any gesture that he will not agree to discuss after the evening meal.” We have to admit that it is a definition that gives us a freedom as “free” as possible! But it makes us fall to the other extreme – by doing so we are not accountable to anyone except our own consciousness. And if we all behave in this way…

There might be a solution! It is proposed by Augustine and is very simply expressed “love and do what you want”. At first glance, we are tempted to say “Wow!” A Church theologian tells us to do what we want? Yes, but under the condition we love! And this detail changes everything! You cannot love the one next to you and want to make him suffer! And if you are careful not to hurt your close ones, it becomes obvious that many of your “original” ideas cannot be put into practice anymore. So, the meaning of Augustine’s words would be “Do all that goes through your head, provided you do not make your brother suffer.”

If you ask how come Augustine preaches so courageous ideas, you must know that Christ the Savior was his source of inspiration when He spoke what would remain into the history of thinking as the “golden rule”: ” Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. “(The Gospel According To Matthew, chapter 7, verse 12). However, Jesus gives another meaning to freedom. For Him, true freedom is the escape from the bonds of sin. ” And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free… Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin… If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed..” (The Gospel According To John, chapter 8, verses 32, 34 , 36).

When He speaks to us about freedom, Christ puts it in touch with the truth (The Gospel According To John, chapter 8, verse 32). It cannot be one without the other. You can not feel free as long as you are not honest with yourself and the others. Perhaps many of our problems would be eliminated if we gave up “not to disturb” the others. I know that in Christian religion, it is said that when you are hit to turn the other cheek as well (The Gospel According To Matthew, chapter 5, verse 39). But, Christ, also, tells us that if someone mistaken you, show her/him her/his mistake to give him the chance to correct himself. If you fail in doing so, it is advisable to call others to help, and if, even after the rebuke of the community, that brother does not correct himself, leave him, because he does not want to be right (The Gospel According To Matthew, chapter 18 , verses 15-17).

And here, according to the “canons” of the world today, the concept of “politicaly correct”, according to which you are not allowed to tell anybody anything regarding her/ his convictions that might upset her/him. The handiest example is the one about homosexuals. It has gone so far as to attempt, even in an inter-Orthodox specialty committee that has recently met at Chambessy, to remove from the Bible the references that could upset the homosexuals. Fortunately, it has not reached that point, but the gesture of external pressures remains!

However, we are told that we are free! But how much freedom do we have? And according to which definition? In totalitarian systems, it was very clear what you are and what you are not allowed to say! I know from my grandparents and my parents what this meant. But, “in democracy,” these things are not specified, so you always have to be careful! Sure, in theory, you are free to express yourself, but, let’s face it, you cannot afford it!

There are two ways of enslaving a people: with the sword and with the credit! History has shown to those who still have the desire to dominate the others that ruling only by force is not effective. There will always be resentment, and there will always be the risk of a rebellion. But being the creditor of others is a totally different matter. First of all, this type of slavery is desired by the enslaved one. He comes to ask for the loan. And in order to pay it, he will work day and night. He’ll work relentlessly to get a better-paid job, and after he gets it, he’ll be a very disciplined employee not to lose his privileges. And that means silence, accepting compromises and all kinds of incredible pressures! Most of us know these things! We all know the taste of this “freedom”!

Christianity has always proposed another form of freedom. Certainly, this freedom also requires patience, but it is a staunch patience, not a compromise. There is a different thing to wait for the wrongdoer to straighten out, and it is a totally different thing to endure all sorts of immoral gestures to assure you some personal benefits. There is a different thing to have the “freedom” to accept blackmail, and there is a totally different thing that you cannot be blackmailed by anyone or anything. Father Savatie Baştovoi says that “the free man is the one who does not sell his freedom either for money, for women, for wine or glory. The free man is the one who is no longer afraid of death. That is, in his view, “freedom means one not to have any reason to run away from God.”

We do this every time we put other “priorities” before seeking God. If we are sincere with us, we notice that at the weekend, it is too hard for us to reserve two hours of our much coveted rest to go to the church; it is very difficult for us to read a prayer, because we have to find out the “latest” news from the television or the internet; it is very difficult to fast, because we are too busy at work and anyway we eat what we “grab”, and the examples can continue.

The question is the following: do we have any chance of getting rid of this vicious circle? Yes! Christ has told us this for almost two thousand years: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof “(Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 6, verses 31-34).

If we cared more about non-material things, we would surely be freer and we would have a happier life. We will be able to allow us not to accept all sorts of compromises, to say what we really think, without fear. When we are linked to the material things, we do not have enough time for the other experiences that really make life worth living. Of course we will not spend our holidays at 4 or 5-star hotels, but we will not miss the first day of our children’s school, nor will we meet with our parents when they are already in the hospital, nor will we postpone that meeting with friends we’ve been scheduling for some time.

I do not say to give up our professional dreams, and I do not preach the renunciation to our passions, the dreams we have. Simply, I wish we were not so preoccupied with the material side of life. We all have to work, but work is meant to help us become better, not to enslave us.

To be clearer, I will share an anecdote that has made me think a lot of! An American tourist left for a holiday in a small village in Spain. Every morning, he strolled along the seashore and saw a fisherman returning each day with a large fish and then selling it to local merchants, and going home afterwards. Amazed, the American tourist asked him: “After you sell the fish you catch every morning, what do you do?” The fisherman replied, “I go to spend my time with my family and my friends.” Then the American said, “I think it’s a wrong approach”! “Why?” The fisherman asked. And then, as if he had waited this time since he had arrived in Spain, the tourist went on: “Well, after selling the fish, instead of going to family and friends, you could fish as many times as you can, to catch more fish.” Surprised, the fisherman asked, “To what purpose?” “Well, it’s obvious! If you do that for a while, you will have the money to buy an even larger boat and you can hire even some people to help you get even more fish.” The fisherman asked again, “What is the purpose?” The American continued, “If you work that way for a long time, you could even buy a ship. Then, if you keep working, you will have more ships and so on. At some point, you’ll own a whole fishing fleet.“ As if he did not understand anything, the Spanish fisherman repeated the question: “What purpose?” To which irritated, the American responded: “To spend more time with your family and friends.”

We Are Just Busy, Not Effective

Our life is more like a race against the clock. Even if we all know that God has made the whole world in stages, we want to do it all at once! The result is what we experience on daily basis: fatigue, frustration and a huge sense of unfulfillment!

He was tired after a day of work spent in the hot summer sun. Still, he was satisfied and quiet, and the smoke of his cigarette stood lazily as a testimony. My grandfather had gone through many of his life, and at my age, when I wrote these lines, he had already built three houses, had fought in the Second World War, had survived a famine, raised three children, and had gone through life challenges that could fill entire libraries. In other words, he had lived and accomplished more than me with all the diplomas together. How did he do it?

“You have no problems! You simply cry! You’re just starting to get there, without knowing what you have to do! You are just busy, not effective “! It was not exactly what I wanted to hear, but it was the truth! So, I asked him where we were wrong, and he told me we were too busy. I was going to say, “Hello! That’s the problem in the first place! How can we not be so busy“? But I left him alone, convinced that his way of seeing things was no longer a realistic one. It took me many more years to understand what he meant, because, indeed … we are too busy!

From morning till evening, the phones do not let us be. Calls, messages, notifications, all require best of us and fragment our time to infinity. The same happens with our jobs, with their deadlines, meetings, and many training sessions to help us become more efficient, but in vain! Besides that, there is the entire breaking news section! We “have” to know it, otherwise we risk becoming obsolete! That’s how our lives get full of “personal” projects. We all know them, they are those that we postpone or, even worse, start them and never finish, whether we are talking about the newest “super efficient” diet or the vacation we are dreaming of for years.

Most of us know, in one way or another, these “experiences”. But what’s sad is that they get most of our time, we are somehow aware of them, and yet it seems we do nothing. In this way, we do not have time for us, we do not have time for the others, we do not even have time for God, which means we do not have time to live. It seems that we are robots of a system that we, paradoxically, have chosen and from which we cannot get out. Time is passing by with a dizzying speed and leaves behind many regrets of what might have been. So, what to do?

If it were for me, I would probably try to get some peace. Daily! A few moments, not many, about 10-15 minutes, before I fell asleep, just for talking to me! Just 10 minutes a day, but every day! The idea is not mine. This solution has always been before me, or more precisely, for my ears to hear, at every liturgy. Every time the ministry of a holy sacrament is performed in the Orthodox Christian tradition, the priest begins with the Great Blessing: “Blessed be the kingdom of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost!” At first glance, it’s just a ritual formula, nothing more! But the purpose of this blessing is to transpose us into another space, in another realm of existence, a spiritual one, where our human time is passing no more. He is suspended, that we may have the necessary peace to get closer to God. And, in my case, it works most of the times. I escape everything what the turmoil of a contemporary life means.

I come back to my grandfather. He had his rhythm for everything! A rhythm that we, today, have lost! The great King Solomon once said that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verse 1). Then he exemplifies this idea with the main moments of human life and of everyday activity. This wisdom has remained valid today as well, because “the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes, chapter 1, verse 9).

That’s why for my grandfather, the day had its rhythm, the week had its rhythm, the year had its rhythm, and, finally, life had a rhythm of its own. In this way, he always knew what to do and could not be taken by surprise. Even if unexpected situations arose, he could have been flexible and able to cope with them, because he first dealt with what was really important, and then did the rest.

Each unit of time had its fixed moments of rest and relaxation. The day had its sleeping hours, the week had Sundays, and the year had winter time when the activity was reduced to what was happening next to the house. Also, he did not forget during this period to enjoy his accomplishments over the year, no matter how small they were. He met with relatives and friends, read and did things for him. Yes, in his case, time had patience with the people!

But there is also a category of people with whom time has patience. These are believers, because the Church also has its own rhythm. Each day is divided into moments that correspond to the fulfillment of one of the seven Holy Praises. Likewise, every day of the week has its special meaning! In its turn, the ecclesiastic year is divided into three great periods that correspond to the three dignities of the Savior, Who is prophet, grand priest and emperor. Everything is orderly, predictable and meaningful.

Let’s see what our situation is! The daily rhythm is infernal: we wake up tired, we run fast to the job where we leave most of the times without being convinced that we did something of value. We get home, where we tend the house chores while watching TV to keep up with the latest “breaking news” and, then, we start preparing for the next day. The same goes for the week: Monday to Friday afternoon, work and that’s all. Then, from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning – “party” and, afterwards, we begin to recover. But this recovery is only about the restoration of the body, not of the spirit as well. That is postponed indefinitely, because the next day is Monday and the whole cycle starts all over again.

A proof that our spirit is no longer so important to us is that, as far as the rhythm of our personal year is concerned, it is grouped in three periods between the summer and winter holidays. Sometimes, an Easter holiday! But if we are asked what the meaning of Christmas is, very few of us will first think of the Birth of Christ. For most of us, Christmas means only that “Santa’s coming to town”. Easter also means we are about to receive gifts from Easter Bunny. By the way, neither Santa nor the Easter Bunny are originally Christian symbols!

Whatever we do, we seem to have lost the sacred meaning of our existence. And without that, we are like an unmanned boat and, therefore, we cannot set a goal (a destination). Practically, the lack of authentic goals further enhances the feeling of a monotonous life. If one does not know where one is heading, one cannot make further steps, one cannot progress. That is why, everything is reduced to “here and now”, because nothing else matters. And yet, what can we do?

First of all, we need to figure out whether we are happy about our existence or not. So it’s important to know if we really want something else! In this sense, a fragment of Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech at Stanford University (June 12, 2005) is emblematic: ”for the last 33 years, I looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: «If today were the last day of my life, would I wanna do what I am about to do?». And whenever the answer has been „No!” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something”.

Related: Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech, Stanford (12th of June 2005)

Then, we need to be sure that what we want can help us become better, progress spiritually so that we do not leave behind only houses, cars, clothes, jewels or thousands of pictures from parties that we do not even remember very well.

After that, we need a plan a daily one, a weekly one, a yearly one and, of course, a plan for our entire life. It will certainly not be easy and will not be well designed from the beginning! But we have to persevere! For starters, 10 minutes each day are enough. It is important that those minutes to be spent at the same time of the day so that we can establish a habit more easily!

We also need to be aware that our plan will also involve sacrifices. If I have to pray more, read more or go to the gym, I will probably have to reduce my time spent on watching television! It hurts, but I will thank myself later!

In addition, we must not give up, however difficult it will seem to us in the beginning! I have always been fascinated by the monks! They spend a lifetime striving to “calm their thoughts.” Their secret? Every time they fail, they start it from the beginning! Until they succeed! We have to do the same. After all, we have not done so much preparation just to quit. We’ll do it step by step! Then, from time to time, depending on what happens ”in the field”, we will review our goals and our ways to accomplish them.

If what I have said so far seems easy, I assure you it is not! But also it is not impossible! We have to be convinced that if what we have decided to do is for our benefit, God will help us! If not, we have to look more! We have no reason to delay! See how fast days, weeks and even years pass. So, let’s switch off the phones and let’s calm down! Just for 10 minutes! … Just for starters!

The Eternity Means Communion

Cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people, and yet too many of us want to be irreplaceable , want to be the best. But in which domain? For how long? What if, instead of competing with the others, we would cooperate with them?

 

I have seen people who consider themselves irreplaceable, or, others consider them irreplaceable. This impression lasted until they were unable to work and “game over” … they were replaced and the game went on. It’s the normal cycle of life! Nothing more, nothing less!

And yet there are people who want to be “irreplaceable,” people who want to win at all costs, people we’ve learned to call “very competitive”. Moreover, there are some of us who always want things to go very fast, they do not have the patience to wait for others, and, in their opinion, it seems that everything around is going too slowly. Why do they hurry? Where do they want to reach?

 

Game theory tells us that there are two types of games: finite and infinite. Finite games are those in which the rules, goals and players are known. The best example is football (soccer). We know the teams, we know the rules, and at the end of the 90 minutes, the one who scored more goals wins.

As for infinite games, the situation changes radically. The objective is to continue the game, the rules are constantly evolving, and players are always changing. There are neither winners, nor losers! Players leave the game when they lose their desire to play or remain without resources. But the game goes on and other players take their place.

Let’s just think about the relationships between lovers! This game existed, exists and will exist for as long as the world will last. Have you ever asked yourself what is called the “war between sexes”? It doesn’t matter, anyway! The experience tells us it is one of the most exciting games of all and most of us want to play it because there are no losers. Simply, we get out of the game based on one of the two reasons: we lose the desire to play or … we ran out of resources.

A major issue occurs when players who appear to play finite games face players involved in infinite games. The war between the United States and Vietnam is such an example. The Americans fought to win while the Vietnamese fought for survival. The same happened with U.R.S.S. vs. Afghanistan, where the Soviets, who also wished to win, faced the mujahidin struggling for their right to exist. Result: U.S.A. and U.R.S.S. lost and accumulated a huge dose of frustration.

Christianity tells us that the world as a whole has been created from an infinite game perspective. God created us because He wanted other beings to have happiness, which is eternal communion with God and the others. As God is eternal and unchangeable, it means that His plan is meant to last for eternity. Players (people) appear in this world and leave it, the rules also can change, but the game of life continues beyond this passing existence. If we have manifested in our lives, by our thoughts, our words and deeds, the desire for communion with God, we continue to play “the game of life”, if not, we isolate ourselves from others and leave the game … for eternity. It’s so simple!

Let’s compare this reality with the devil’s mentality. He tries to “win”, he wants to “score as many points” against God. It is also clear to him that he cannot win. He would not have it. According to the Bible, he is a fallen angel. So, a creature who, like us, had the chance to have its part in the “infinite game” of life wanted to be the most powerful, wanted to win. He, finite by definition, has rebelled against God, Who is infinite. So, he approached an infinite game with a finite player mentality.

It is also what happens to us when we want to overcome the others, to become “the best”! But what does it mean to be the best? Be the smartest, the fastest, the strongest, get the most money, be the best known? And for how long: for a month, a quarter, a semester, a year, five years? And, after all, who has set these criteria and how relevant are they? In any case, I do not agree with them!

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that no one really wins. Any victory, any record, any peak of progress is not eternal. They will be overcome by others sooner or later, because the whole creation is progressing! We have to accept that! As matter of fact, progress is the destiny of the world, and this destiny is an endless, infinite game.

Infinity makes sense only in communion. When we fight with others, we isolate ourselves from our close ones, and after we leave this world, our isolation becomes eternal! So if we are alone and are to live forever, we have every reason to ask ourselves what the purpose of such a life is?

After all, hermits do not want to live outside of communion with others. In the Orthodox tradition, the great ascetics, even if they live for long periods of isolation, keep in touch with the communities they come from, and after a certain time they return among their brethren and share with them the experiences they have gained. And this conduct is a form of communion, not of isolation.

So, the lesson is simple: the story of this world, as it was written by God, is an endless one. It is a “game” that goes beyond our existence. Therefore, there is no point in trying to win victories over others. In other words, the purpose of the game is not to become “the best” or “better than the one next to me”, but to become “better than I was yesterday”. This is the progress, and it is infinite!

But infinity also means communion, cooperation. Where would humanity have been if, instead of struggling between us, we would have worked together? What would happen if instead of trying to become the best, the most efficient, the most beautiful, the richest, the smartest …, we decide to help each other? What if instead of efficiency, we put people first and believe in them?

We have heard too many times the idea that “progress is driven by competitiveness”, because it drives us to become the best. And after we become the best, what’s next? Are we stopping because we have achieved our goal? The “kaizen” concept (“continuous improvement”) is what made Japanese firms so effective. Does it focus on achieving the “ultimate goal” and then “game over”? Not! It says that, regardless of the level of progress achieved, the improvement process must continue! And this improvement cannot be achieved all by ourselves, but in communion with others! Otherwise, what’s the point?

We must understand that we are part of the story of God’s eternal love that is the foundation of communion. If we refuse communion, it means we do not love and want to be isolated. But if we take into account that God has given us eternal life, living alone forever is not a too bright perspective.

If we are always going to be better, faster, stronger than others, maybe we will get to win some victories, but, in the end, we will defeated. Then we will come to the conclusion that we are no longer good and that we do not deserve the respect of others. So, we will separate from others, and this is not our destiny.

Therefore, we must try to overcome everything that can prevent us from the communion with others. Even if someone seems to be not good enough, beautiful, smart, talented or hardworking etc. let’s not forget that we are not perfect either. Every time, there is or there will be someone to best us! So, what if we tried to bring out the best of everyone? I’m sure our expectations will be exceeded!

It’s amazing what a man can do if he is trusted. And the first Person to trust man was God! He thinks we can become better and that we can do it together, in communion. In fact, this is the purpose of the eternal story that God has written for us! Let’s not ruin it!