I love the look on my daughter’s face when I tell her “You can do what you want to do AFTER you do what you have to do.” Training a child (or, for that matter me!) to delay gratification is one of the most important life lessons any parent can give a child.
This basic ability of the mature pays off life dividends in both practical and spiritual ways. If I would have started saving for my retirement in my 20’s, the miracle of compound interest would have made me a very wealthy man. If I would have put off playing when I should have been studying, I would have made better grades. If I would have… oh, you get the idea. If only…
But I have to mature enough to see the joy in the discipline before I will ever find the strength to actually practice the discipline.
Look at our Lesson in Zechariah 8:7-17 (Yes, it’s in the First Testament. That’s toward the front of the Book!):
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Let your hands be strong, you who in these days have been hearing these words from the mouth of the prophets, since the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built. For before those days there was no wage for man or any wage for beast, neither was there any safety from the foe for him who went out or came in; for I set every man against his fellow. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, and the ground shall give its increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong.”
For thus says the Lord of hosts: “As I purposed to do evil to you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the Lord of hosts, so again have I purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; fear not. These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, says the Lord.”
The prophet is telling the People of God that there are coming days when the Lord would save His people from captivity and bondage. Zechariah was used by God to encourage His people as they had just returned to Jerusalem after having been in captivity in Babylon. These refugees returning to their land were overwhelmed by the task at hand in re-establishing themselves in their homeland.
So, Zechariah tells them what God says “SHALL” do. Doesn’t sound like a suggestion, does it?
Look at what the Lord tells them: First, speak the truth to one another. Delusion and fantasy are the enemies of spiritual and even societal health. If you lie to yourself, you’ll stay sick. If you lie to one another the society stays sick. Communion between people grows where truth is encouraged. It dies where truth is punished. Next, make judgments based on truth and peace. This is an interesting combination because in our society today we have whole groups that insist they want peace but what they really want is power. Peace doesn’t come without truth, but truth has to be comprehensive if it is going to produce true peace. If your rhetoric is only partial truth, you won’t get peace. Next, don’t plan evil towards another in your heart. When we do this we plant the seeds of division, bitterness, and hate in our lives. And that always leads to conflict, never peace. Finally, love no false oath. It seems the running thread of wisdom in all this is honesty within and without.
Today, what are you doing to build honesty inside yourself and with others? It is the constant discipline of speaking the truth in love that creates a sense of peace and sobriety in our lives. And it is precisely the goal of the spiritual disciplines of the Church. Learning how to live honestly flows from a committed and purposeful Orthodox Christian life. You can do what you want to do AFTER you do what you have to do.
P.S. Dear Lord, Your Church is inviting me to join You in the “arena of the virtues” in entering Great Lent. But too many times all I focus on is the pain of practicing the disciplines of the Faith. All I see is “what I can’t have” or “what I can’t do.” And that wrong focus always costs me the strength to not give up. Help me Lord to refocus on the joy of the disciplines in setting me free from the slavery of my life lived too small for someone created in Your image. Give me new eyes this Lent to see the joy of the Fast! Amen!