The paradox of becoming who you are is filled with all kinds of opportunities, pitfalls, and wrong turns. The truth is the journey IS the destination when it comes to discovering who you really are. And the only way to journey well is through living a wakeful life! But how do you do that?
Our experiences, relationships, choices, priorities, and beliefs are shaped by and are shaping others all the time. That’s why the choices we make are so vital to our spiritual progress. And that’s why the Church constantly calls us to a wakefulness about our life that always causes us to know where we are and who we are. But this awareness, this wakefulness, is hard work and that’s why so many don’t do it. That is also why those folks who don’t attempt this hard work end up having life live them instead of them living life. It’s why they stumble and lose heart in times of suffering and loss. They don’t have the ability to be wakeful enough to embrace even times of sorrow as stepping stones to deeper living. And that poverty of wakefulness has disastrous consequences for their lives. And that would be bad enough, but the greatest tragedy is that these folks aren’t isolated islands unto themselves. Their spiritual poverty affects others around them perpetuating the consequences of their lack of wakefulness in the lives of others.
Even Socrates sees the wisdom in living a wakeful life when he says “ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ – The unexamining life is not worth living for a human being.” Notice the continual action implied in the original. This wisdom, planted in we humans by our loving Creator, is simply obvious but continually difficult.
Look at our Epistle Lesson today in I Corinthians 4:9-16: BRETHREN, God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things. I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
St. Paul sees clearly the challenge of living a purposeful and continually examined life. This way of life is so opposite the daily existence of so many that it appears to all as a drudgery and misery. But that is only because the slumber of most miss the real power of living life on purpose. St. Paul fills up all his challenges, all his suffering with the greater realization that all his suffering and difficulties are filled with both purpose and meaning and the end result is eternal freedom. If you were to start seeing your own challenges in this light, wouldn’t it make your burden lighter?
St. Paul goes on to reveal the central principle to this wakeful life in revealing the community nature of such a life. Notice he doesn’t say he is just one of the “guides” to the Corinthians, but a “father.” This familial reality is key to living a wakeful life. You aren’t meant to, nor can you ever hope to, live a wakeful life by yourself. It takes your willingness to be in communion and to do the hard work of communion and even to become wakeful enough to be an “imitator” of the saints to ever have any chance to live a wakeful life. The truth is you are already an “imitator” of someone; but is it a healthy one you are imitating.
Today, who are you imitating? Is your “model” for living a free and wakeful person or persons? Do you have a spiritual father who is guiding you toward a humble, purposeful, and wakeful life? Who are the examples in your life today? Are you willing to do the hard work of communion so that your life will be awake to who you really are? Lot’s of questions, I know, but if we don’t stop now and again and examine our journey how will we ever know if we are headed in the right direction? Perhaps it’s time to purposefully embrace the wise path of life in our Orthodox Way. As we begin today the Winter Lent of the Feast of the Nativity, may God grant you the courage to live an examined and wakeful life.
P.S. Are you a good Steward of the gifts God has given you? The key to that reality is the spiritual discipline of Gratitude. On the NEXT Faith Encouraged LIVE Fr. Barnabas will be joined by Bill Mariannes as they examine just what a good steward really is. That’s Sunday night November 23rd at 8 PM on AncientFaith.com. Make sure your pastor and your stewardship team are listening!