I have been pondering so much lately, but writing very little. I even stopped my poetry because life just, well, interfered, as life does. One thing that has come through in so many areas recently is the subject of Character. Now, I am not speaking to the idea of someone who makes you laugh and does funny things, as in, ” He’s such a character!” But rather to the core of who someone truly is. Because I have seen quite recently that the character that we put out there towards other people, and the character that makes up our very marrow, can be quite, quite different.
I wonder why honesty in our dealings with others is such a hard thing to do. There are people we all know who change, depending upon the audience. There was a woman I worked with and she was in a position of authority and was quite intimidating at the office. I was invited to her home one Friday evening and came away from that so changed in my attitude towards her as a person. I had no idea she was so nice! We laughed and had such a wonderful time. Back at work, she reverted to her office “persona;” I much preferred the other woman! Ha-Ha! But I understood her reasoning and I also came to know her better, so that we had lunch quite often and we laughed at jokes and could have a much better relationship at work. But I asked her why we did not get to see the “real” her at work and she told me it was because she had so much authority and had to impose so much disciplinary action towards employees, that she needed to keep herself a little removed from everyone. She was also worried no one would respect her if she were too nice. It’s been many years now, but I still always wondered why we can’t just be who we are, with everyone we interact with.
Recently, I was taken in by someone who pretended to be a friend, and who exhibited what I had thought were admirable qualities: volunteerism, camaraderie, leadership, faith, and a strong character. I literally trusted this person with the lives of those I love. Literally. And it has come to light recently that it was a huge sham. This person is nothing in ‘real life’ that was trotted out for all of us to see. It turns out the faith is something worn like a suit, but not practiced. The character was barely skin deep. The leadership, I devastatingly learned, was by intimidation and coercion, with lots of profanity thrown in for good measure.
When we interact with people, they trust that “what they see is what they get.” We implicitly trust others in lots of ways. We trust our bank to do right with our money and not play fast and loose with our funds. We trust the grocery store to not sell us tainted or bad food. We trust the gas station to sell gas that honestly is gas and not something watered down that damages our cars. We trust that when the mechanic says he changed the oil, he really did. We trust our doctors when they say we need surgeries. We trust our children’s teachers, their leaders in organizations to have their best interests at heart – and when we leave them for the day (or event, or week, or whatever it is) we trust our children are safe and in capable hands. We trust our friends to be honest with us; when we ask them to pray for us, we know they will. We trust our priest – he brings us Christ through his ordination and holy hands. There are so many people we trust in life, we just don’t think about it all the time. And when your trust with someone is shattered, it can be unraveling. Like you have to physically take a step back. And I have – I did. And I sat down, amazed at the turn of events I had witnessed, and I am just pondering this whole concept of trust and character.
Our words and how we treat other people truly do become our actions. And those actions can become habitual (which is another thing about Lent I am grateful for – a specific time each year I can turn inward and fix those nasty things keeping me from being a better person) if we do not stay on that. And our habits become the character of who we are. And that, in turn, determines our destiny. Am I a liar? Do I cheat people regularly? Am I an honest person? Do I lie? Even silly, white lies, to cover a silly transgression? Or do I own up to who I am and what I have done, trying to atone for that and become better? Has my character become infected with poor choices of words and deeds, habits that have taken me over?
“And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them,“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
I love that Scripture verse. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. God is among us. In each of us. And how we treat others affects His Kingdom. Will you be known, or will the door be closed and He will know you not? I am thinking more and more about this as I have been shown how duplicitous people can be. I still believe that honesty in all things is what God is calling us to. I believe He knows who we are, and He desires us to be more and more like Him in all things…that old Theosis philosophy. And I truly believe that those who pump themselves up in the eyes of others, and who do so lying their way to the top, will be like those in that last statement, “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”
And one of the most amazing things I have gleaned from this introspective time is that God truly has this in hand, and He has all things. I need to “let go and let God,” allowing Him to work in all things, for our good. Little by little, I see good triumphantly making its way forward. Little things are happening that show me sometimes the bad is allowed for good to triumph. And I am getting out of my own way, by learning to discern in silence all these things, for my own growth and betterment.
It is wonderful to know that during Holy Week, as we begin to gradually turn our attention to Our Lord and His lonely walk to Calvary, that things in our lives can mirror it in a cosmic, esoteric way (certainly not like Our Lord suffered). We all go through our moments of intense suffering, of questioning everything, and having to walk through it, in order to get to the other side, clinging to our own Cross.
I still believe honesty, transparency, and character all count. They are all characteristics of a person who truly cares for others and is honestly trying to be a Christian disciple. And I still know that when I am hoodwinked and when someone turns out to be far, far less than I had imagined them to be, I will mourn. It is a physical loss of a friend and an emotional scar. But I also know Christ allows these things for my edification and growth, for my own character development.
The first three days of Holy Week are treated as sort of one day. We focus on the Bridegroom and the preparation. We read today of the virgins and their lamps and of the ten talents. The gifts we are given and how we use them to best prepare ourselves for the Coming of the Bridegroom, Christ Our Lord. And preparing for His Coming is something we do all the time, every day, in how we spend our days and our time. We pray. We reflect. We attend services. We seek confession. We keep our lamps full and we use fully all the gifts (talents – a form of money, and not something you do well like sing or paint or dance) given to us. Do we seek a return on our gifts? Do we hide them? Is our lamp filled with oil at all times? Boy, that is hard to do in our everyday world. I acknowledge my shortcomings and I pray for my healing – for patience, for character of a sterling quality, and for love for each person I come into contact with. And I pray, so much, for the gift of forgiveness. Not for me, but that the Lord will help me give over this pain and disappointment and turn it into love and forgiveness for those who have so let me down. And we keep our lamps full and patiently await the Bridegroom.
As I prepare this week to celebrate Pascha and the Resurrection of Our Lord, I am preparing my heart. I am enjoying the smell of our house as I dye our eggs using all these spices I am trying: turmeric, paprika, onion, and vinegar (I only wish our dinner would smell so good). And it is a wonderful way to seek silence in the doing of it, in the preparing of it. I can contemplate and await the Bridegroom through my humble service of preparation for my family and friends. As I bake break and prepare the other foods and goods in our family’s basket, it is a time of reflection, peace, and prayer. God is so good to us. He gives us these Holy Days of Holy Week to prepare, to come to Him ready and joyous for His gift of eternal life. I am blessed.