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”.
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!