Lately, I’ve been learning again about persistence. I’ve been persistent in the past. However, it’s not an easy trait to learn, or in this case, relearn. You try as hard as you can to achieve something. You do all you can to tackle your goal to the ground. You like to think you are strong, but a stronger wave sends you back to your place time and time again. You find yourself on the beach, again, covered in sand and spitting up salty water. You spend your energy and time rushing out into the sea against the currents. You try it again, and again. When you least expect it, life sends you another curve ball: here comes the tsunami.
It’s true what psychologists say about conflicts and difficult situations: it’s either fight or flight. I like to fight. I don’t see any purpose in running away. However… We all have those Netflix evenings of escapism. During wars in the past, people used to go to the movies to escape their problems. It took their minds off of the terror and terrible situations in the world. If only there was a way to escape your troubles, you could… Yet, we do it all the time. We purposely don’t read certain books, because they remind us of painful circumstances that hang over our lives like ghosts that haunt us.
One day, I finally realized what makes persistence easy and what makes it difficult. Persistence is difficult when it is primarily selfish. I find that when we make goals that will only benefit ourselves, it’s harder to achieve them. It’s probably because they’re so vain and pointless. Self-serving is fine, for a while, maybe even a few days, but it is fleeting. Selfishness just leads down a path of emptiness. It doesn’t drive. Survival drives us. It always has. When it comes to selfishness, our determination falls behind. I think it’s because deep down we know our motives are wrong. They do nothing to benefit others or do anything good for this world. In a way, we feel useless. What’s the point battling the waves of life?
Sometimes humans have these strange needs for affirmation, praise, and acknowledgement. But for what? For our pride as human beings? I think if we reach deep, beyond the surface, we’ll find our need for satisfaction and self worth. Maybe going outside of ourselves to do things for others could fill that void in our lives. It not only makes us stronger, but makes us want to be stronger. It feels like there is a purpose now, one that matters. With that in mind, persistence comes easier. Or at least, I think it does.
I know many people may be searching for truth or God, or something to believe in. I think we all have this innate search for the big answers in life. We love others or feel love from others. In this love, we feel God–for God is love. As a Christian, I believe in that. I think we often put too much stock in people in order to judge whether or not a religion is true.
The Bible does talk about Christians showing the light and being the salt of the Earth. I believe it’s true that we can be vessels and live out our testimonies. If we have acquired the Holy Spirit, that light shines into the world. This shows people that God is working in their lives. Most of all, love shows people who God is.
This all works. Then again, I’ve been on both sides. The key thing I have learned is this:
You should not choose a religion based solely on people’s actions and behavior, but you should only choose a religion because you believe it is true.
At different points in my life, I used to discern whether or not Christianity was the true religion. I assessed Christians in my life. I judged the way they treated me. When I attended churches, I looked around and studied them. Wasn’t that the driver that cut me off in the parking lot? Now that he’s in church, he is all the sudden loving me and shaking my hand? I’ll admit: it’s confusing, because Christians are not always kind and loving as they should be. That includes myself.
At some point in my life, every group of religious or non-religious person has done something unkind and unloving towards me. I have done unkind and unloving things towards people. This is confusing, isn’t it? I thought that being Christian would make me a better person. That’s not necessarily the case. I realized my flaws are that I believe in the way of Christ, but I do not always walk in the way of Christ. Religion, or in this case, Christianity, should transform me from within. It should transform me because I am willing to be transformed. I discipline myself to be more aware, more obedient and loving in all the things that I do. Eventually, there’s success.
It is great while it lasts. However… Give me less than six hours of sleep and put me behind the wheel of a car, then I’ll be inwardly cursing up a storm towards the reckless drivers on the road. I think we have all been there. When we break the transformation process, we become discouraged. Discouragement leads to self-deprecation, because we realize we’re not perfect. As a result, we keep on making mistakes. We start judging people and saying awful things, because we feel we are entitled to do that. Pride sets in. Selfishness takes over. At that point, it doesn’t seem like religion is doing much at all for us. We expect it to do all the work, because we feel it shouldn’t be up to us. That’s foolishness, because religion expects that we walk with it. Allowance and idleness are not the same things. By allowing transformation, we need a change of mind, a willing heart, and actions that proceed.
We look at ourselves for answers. We look to the world for reassurance. What is truth? Who is God? What will happen when I die? Where can I find peace? Where can I find joy? How can my life feel like it is going in the right direction? …Am I on the right path? We question and judge ourselves and all those around us. Nothing feels certain. That’s why we need to look straight towards religion, towards the very thing that transforms our lives.
Fr. Seraphim Rose is a man who has inspired me. In his early academic life, he was into Chinese Taoism and Asian philosophies. He eventually converted to Orthodoxy and became a hieromonk of ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia). Fr. Rose wrote a book called God’s Revelation to the Human Heart addressing the human condition of suffering in relation to the “core of all Christian life: the conversion of the heart of man, which begins to burn with love for Christ and transforms him into a new man.”
There are two big things I took away from this book:
(1) Coming to religion isn’t about analyzing something or making a decision, but it’s about revelation: God reveals Himself to us. Even though we want to spend our lives lost and try to search out religion on our own, it doesn’t matter. God is always present and He is ready to reveal Himself to us at any moment.
(2) God reveals himself to us by the heart. I’m sure many of us expect a cloud to open up and see God talking to us from Heaven. Most often, that doesn’t happen to us. Instead, in Christianity, God talks to the human heart. He speaks to us in a real and loving way. We just need to listen with our hearts.
If we rely primarily on people, we will be disappointed, because people will eventually fail us. As for God, God will never disappoint us. God never fails. He is always good, loving, and true. If we want to search for truth, we need to open our hearts to God and let Him speak into our lives.
Something I’ve been learning about is keeping life simple. It sounds easy, right? But it’s not. It doesn’t feel easy when you’re a complicated person like myself. I realize the mess of a complicated life comes from all the silly rules we apply to ourselves. We tell ourselves what we must do and the things we have to do, when in fact, we don’t really need to. There are clear rules in life. Don’t get me wrong. In fact, there’s necessary things we need to do for survival, love, and beyond… Often, our minds get cluttered. We find ourselves feeling either too ambitious or too chaotic. Either too desperate or too busy. We’re all over the place. We’re complicated.
There’s no balance.
In the end, we need to gather our thoughts, concentrate, and focus. We need to quickly prioritize the things that truly matter. I think often we spend too much time in our own heads. We run from one place to another. We set impractical goals before we even try to carve out time to accomplish them. I mean- nothing should stop us. We should never give up being hopeful. Hope is what keeps us going. However, we shouldn’t allow our lives to struggle for too long. We need a break from a complicated life.
I know, as a writer, I struggle. I have all these big dreams of finishing and publishing novels. The reality may be this: only a few people may actually read any of the books I write. That’s not to discourage me or stop me from my dreams. I can still work on them. But, I don’t need to be obsessed. When I finish my novels, I’ll finish them. I’ll get to that. I can even set a time every week to work towards that. My problem is I spend too much time thinking about it than actually having the time to work on it. I also have other dreams many people have: like traveling the world and accomplishing something great. I think there’s a deep need in all of us to accomplish something great. We want to be special, be unique, and have a great purpose in life. There’s nothing wrong in using our gifts for the greater good and striving for success in life. However, we can’t be blind from the most important things in life. That’s what simplicity is all about.
I like to read up on Quakers. There’s some Quaker beliefs I agree and disagree with. That’s besides the point. I just find their history and beliefs interesting. At one time in life, I was inspired by their testimony on simplicity. They believed that we should strive for a simple life. Therefore, we should focus on the things that are most important and focus less on the things that are unimportant. It’s true. I really need to consider the things that are more important in life. And the other things, not so much. There’s no way I can accomplish everything I set out to do. We live for only a short time on this planet.
There are some things that are more important than others. Like, for example: my wife. Spending time with her, intentional time, and making memories is more important than finishing a book. Then again, finishing a book is more important to me than saving up money to visit Norway. If I go to Norway with my wife, which I would, then that is obviously more important than finishing a novel. That’s just how life works. We only have so much time. So, why spend it all in our heads? Why waste time on things that are unimportant? Let us focus. Let us prioritize.
Keep life simple.
If we look to the media, we can make assumptions that the world is all over the place. There is a lot going on about hate, racism and much discrimination towards people who are different. I remember when I was younger, these issues were still prevalent, but there seemed to be more tolerance towards people who were different. Unfortunately, the stereotype and prejudice was about the same.
I thought with my generation, it would be different. But, it really wasn’t… In time, I noticed this naive sense of arrogance that comes with our youth; we think we may know ourselves better and do a better job at being better people in the world. I think we all try to do our own job in trying to stand up for what is right. That’s quite apparent. The error, I notice, is not in our ability to stand up. We do a sufficient job in sharing our views and opinions. That is quite noticeable (no snark intended).
The error is not that we take the initiative to stand up, but in how we stand up. We try to lead by what we say, rather than by setting an example. Many times, we do not consider our actions and behaviors, especially when it comes to how we speak and treat others. Sadly, we sometimes do not consider how we impact or affect others. We can often neglect their point-of-views and their own stories… I find this happens as a weakness in our character. We should not be who the world wants us to be. We should be who we want to be, a better version of ourselves.
We can even assess this by our emotions towards one another. Clearly, it seems most people can sympathize with others. The question is: do we emphasize with others? Let’s define both terms:
The dictionary defines empathy as:
Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives
Wikipedia defines empathy as:
The capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference.
The dictionary defines sympathy as:
The feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.
Wikipedia defines sympathy as:
The perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another life form.
I believe, in a way, I have failed to be empathetic throughout my life. I am empathetic, but most of time, I do not feel that way. You see. Empathy takes work. Sympathy is the recognition for the suffering or emotions another person encounters. Empathy feels what someone else is feeling by placing oneself in another person’s shoes. We say sorry and feel bad when others come across misfortunes, griefs, sufferings, etc. As I’ve learned, that’s sympathy.
Empathy is when we actually feel bad. Our feeling for other people’s feelings are to weigh on our hearts. You can even look to the Bible for references to our need for empathy. In the Letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NKJV). When we bear one another’s burden, when we carry what someone else carries, we should actually feel it.
That’s the beautiful thing about compassion when it comes to our character and growth. Compassion sends us beyond the point of sympathy into the levels of empathy for others. We don’t only recognize the sufferings of others, we actually feel what they are suffering: we identify with them. When Lazarus died, Jesus Christ didn’t show just the necessary condolences, but instead, “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35 NKJV). He lost Lazarus and identified with those who lost Lazarus. It seems interesting to me that since the Son of God could, and knew he would, bring Lazarus back from dead, that he still wept. Jesus showed true compassion. His action in weeping was real empathy.
I’m not saying we all need to cry for another. Though, at times, when others suffer, we should weep with one another. We should, at least, show compassion and try to empathize with others. I know that for men, empathy can be a difficult feeling to show. At least for me, empathy is a difficult emotion to evoke. Over time, empathy has become a difficult emotion for me to access right away. Part of that is due to my personality: I am first inclined to think than to feel. That’s just part of my nature. Empathy is still there, especially when I need it to be there. When bad things happen to people, I don’t just feel bad, but feel what other people must be feeling. It’s something I definitely need to work on. I hope we all consider working on developing and accessing empathetic emotions.
In order to become more aware of our empathetic emotions, we may need to allow our hearts to use our imagination; we need to place our minds in the perspectives of other people. Part of the problem is we have lost our ability to love another.
Here’s an observation: only a certain amount of people use the internet, or even social media. As we have seen, people with the most radical beliefs and opinions share their views on media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc. Keeping in mind this is a small portion of society, there appears to be a lack of empathy and kindness towards one another. As we have all learned, the internet can be a mean place, where the darkest emotions of people are expressed behind a computer screen. The internet is not the only place. I see this in physical interactions, where there also seems to be a lack of empathy for one another; sometimes, there is even a lack of sympathy for one another. Next time you’re in public, take notice of the way others treat others (most of all, how we treat others).
It’s because of silly things like political views, strong opinions, or cultural differences, we make each other out to be enemies. Even Jesus said, “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44 NKJV). We should not respond by neglecting, disliking, or hating one another. Instead, we should love one another. We should do good things to other people and for other people. In our behavior and actions, we need to be present with others by empathizing and showing compassion. Sometimes, empathizing requires is to use our imagination, in order to feel what another person must be feeling from their perspective. I believe Jesus has done that with all of us, that He has felt what we felt, because He love us and has shown compassion towards us.
At the root of all this is our character, our heart: we need to sincerely love one another. Our hearts need to be filled with the love of God. I know that it can be very difficult to be patient with rude or unkind people who have either been hateful or unloving towards you, but remember that we may have even been like them at one point in life. Keeping that in mind will allow us to persevere with mercy and patient. Regardless of how other people view us or treat us, someone needs to love first. So, why not start with ourselves? Someone needs to cross that boundary line in order to love one another.
Don’t give up on loving. Eventually, love will defeat all racism, prejudices, etc. Love will eliminate all the foolish opinions or petty differences we have. Love will destroy hate, because love is exactly the feeling God has for every single human on this planet. Even though we may be emotionally disconnected or just caught up in our own lives, this does not mean that we can simply ignore the greatness and mysterious power of love. Love fulfills our life as humans and without love we are truly nothing. The Bible once stated, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). In this respect, love is more than just a possibility of mankind, but an absolute necessity to life.
Love will transcend our absent feelings, beyond sympathy, to the compassionate feelings of empathy for one another. By identifying with one another, empathy will allow us to feel for others so that can truly comfort others and possibly help one another. Empathy can motivate us to do good things and make this world a better place to live, at least while we are still here. In this way, love can change the world. God has shown us the way of love, because He has first loved us. He will never stop loving us, because absolutely nothing in this world or the life to come can separate us from the love of God.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)