Reflecting on my recent article comparing the life of worldly cares and the monastic life, I have been asked to describe what the proper life in the world should look like. I will offer a few observations, but, in truth, I know of no better description than the 55 Maxims for Christian Living authored by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. I know that his list started out shorter and was added to over the years. There is, I think, a theme. That theme focuses on the art of actually living, not being distracted from yourself, from God, and from others around you.
When he says things such as “be an ordinary person,” it focuses precisely on that. It is echoed again when he says, “Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.” He urges us to “live a day, or part of a day” at a time. This means living with attention – not some extreme focus – but attention. I often interpret this to mean not living in an absent-minded way. If you’re talking on the phone, pay attention to the conversation. If you’re driving your car, pay attention to your driving, etc. There is nothing that we do during a day that requires less attention. Multi-tasking is for computers, not people.
This simple living also means refusing to become part of the media herd. The “news” is not news. It exists largely to excite your passions and to sell you things (including ideas and emotions). “Being better informed” is a sales pitch you’ve learned to repeat. If you want to be better informed, read a book…slowly.
In 2011, I was at a conference with Fr. Tom. We fell into a conversation about writing. I told him that my general rule was to refrain from writing about things that I didn’t know. I also noted that the more I wrote, the less I seemed to know. He laughed and said, “Keep writing. Someday you’ll know nothing. Then you’ll be holy!”
I doubt that I’ll ever be holy. But the comment was characteristic of him. His teaching was never complicated, even though it was profound. The same is true of these maxims. Print them out. Put them up where you can see them and think about them. And when the maxims seem to overwhelm you, read number 53. Glory to God.
1. Be always with Christ.
2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
7. Eat good foods in moderation.
8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
9. Spend some time in silence every day.
10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
11. Go to liturgical services regularly
12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
15. Read the scriptures regularly.
16. Read good books a little at a time.
17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
18. Be an ordinary person.
19. Be polite with everyone.
20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
22. Exercise regularly.
23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
25. Be faithful in little things.
26. Do your work, and then forget it.
27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
28. Face reality.
29. Be grateful in all things.
30. Be cheerful.
31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
32. Never bring attention to yourself.
33. Listen when people talk to you.
34. Be awake and be attentive.
35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.