Yesterday, my daughter walked through our front door carrying four hours worth of homework in her backpack. After a snack and quick-ish recap of her day (she’s my talker), she handed over her iPhone and pulled out her super-sized literature textbook. Last year, her freshman year, we all learned the hard way that dilly-dallying and procrastination, though powerfully alluring, result in nothing but yuckiness. It is a horrible feeling to be faced at 9:00 pm with still more math and French assignments, or even worse, to show up in class not knowing what’s due when.
My daughter knows herself, her strengths and weaknesses, thus her resolve to avoid temptations she cannot overcome with ease. Like her mother, she is impulsive. A detour upstairs to her bedroom could very well result in spontaneous drawer reorganizing or nail painting, and a quick peek at her phone to an hour of texting or Apple Music playlist creating.
“What is the hardest thing on your to-do list?” I asked her. “
“Analyzing these Puritan poems,” she sighed.
“Alright then,” I answered. “Let’s do that first!”
Yes, it took a loooong time to wade through the dense language and antiquated turns of speech. Yes, she missed many, many snapchats from her friends (Highschoolers have A LOT to report to one another …. all the time…every day…. every minute) while she was working. Yes, it was very challenging but, darn it all, she did it and really learned some things in the process! By 8:00 pm she was free to chat away and relax without the weight of dread dragging her down. By 9:30 pm, she was in bed, her mind at ease.
The most valuable of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it has to be done, whether you like it or not.
– Aldous Huxley
In his 55 Maxims for Christian Living, Fr. Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, suggested we “Do the most difficult and painful things first.” It is a thought-provoking dictum, seemingly not overtly spiritual at the outset yet quite weighty when furthered pondered and put into practice.
Life on earth is very hard. I’d even venture to propose it is mostly difficult, dotted with snippets of joy that give us merciful glimpses of God’s Kingdom which is to come. So much is out of our control. We are vulnerable to all manner of violence- physical, intellectual, and emotional in nature. These threats to our well-being, when focused on exclusively, can really do a number on our psyche. Who hasn’t felt the ache of despondency in the middle of a sleepless night? It is miserable.
That being said, there are some things we most certainly can control. And the prayerful controlling of these things is, for a Christian, a profound calling that affects not only our own quality of life but also the health of our family and community members. Hope begets hope, and peace anchored in Christ can, as St. Seraphim of Sarov famously said, save thousands of souls around us.
We must strive for inner peace through meekness, kindness towards others, and gentleness of heart. Inner peace in a world of torment and sadness brings joy to our hearts, and joy to those around us. If we have inner peace, we can change the world.
– Abbot Tryphon
Striving for inner peace has become a full-time occupation for me. It requires my going inward toward the depths of my spirit, which is insulated from the noise of earthly bitterness, envy, and cares. I have found it isn’t the large dramatic decisions in my life that have helped me procure this heavenly peace but rather the small, everyday, practical ones.
Holding my tongue when I want to gossip or complain keeps me peaceful, as does repenting of my own sins when tempted to judge another person. Investing in the lives of others, getting outside in nature, spending time in silence, counting my blessings, pushing myself creatively- these all calm my spirit too. And yes, avoiding the stress and yuck of procrastination and unproductivity, by buckling down and doing the most difficult thing first, produces fulfillment independent of outside circumstances.
I am not strong enough to carry the weight of tomorrow on my fragile shoulders but this present moment is mine to redeem in a hundred different simple salvific ways. Inner peace is as close as the choices right in front of me to squelch my impulsive passions, love my neighbor, and cling to Christ.