What does it mean to say ‘yes’ to a person, a community or to a specific way of life? It can give the image of taking a turn, to the left or right, then walking in that direction and in the process letting go of other choices. Our choices, or our ‘yes’s” if you will, form us and are very important in what kind of people we become over the course of our lives, in how we develop and grow as the years go by.
The ‘yes’ that we make, the depth of soul from which that commitment is made, will either grow and deepen or wither and die over the course of time. Marriage is an example. A ‘yes’ is given to live out ones life with another, through good and bad times, until death do you part. In order for that ‘vow’ to be lived out over the years is of course made up of many small choices, leading to perhaps a big one during some sort of crisis. A good marriage is not an accident, it takes work, commitment, a death to self that continues as the relationship between man and wife deepens as the years go by. Our ‘yes’s’ usually take form in relationship to others and on a more or less conscious level, God is also a part of this process. In living out our life commitment, we grow, become less self centered and mature in our ability to live and work with others. If this does not happen, then there will be a halt to inner growth and a possible ending of the life chosen, be it with a marriage or an involvement with others in community.
We like to think of straight lines, of a path that leads without windings and detours, but just as in nature a straight line does not exist, so in our own lives, on any given path there can be many unforeseen stops and starts…. uprooting and new beginnings that were not anticipated at the start. How we react to such occurrence will either be a goad that spurs us on, or a crisis that will lead to an abandoning of a specific path, way of life or relationship.
In monastic life, a ‘yes’ is given, one often made in a state of deep fervor; which will be tested as time goes by. Often this living out of our commitment can be experienced as three steps forward and two steps back. A slow process in other words, for as we intensify our commitment, the deeper we come to face to face with aspects of ourselves that can destroy that ‘yes’ and lead to the death of a vocation.
Pride is often manifested in having the inability to accept failure without a great deal of morbid introspection. Introspection will isolate, from others as well as from God, for having an unrealistic understanding of ones strength or virtue does not lead to self awareness, which connects us with others, but to neurotic guilt and a closing in on ones self. This is often a stage that many grow through, for as humility grows, so does compassion and trust in God’s grace to raise us up so we can continue on our journey. It is not about keeping score, but in looking towards our goal, one step at a time, one day at a time, and in failure, to again begin anew in joy and expectation…. not in a turning in on oneself. For many, this can be difficult process, but one that has to be gone through.
It is like Peter in the boat, calling out to the Lord as he walked towards them on a very rough sea. Jesus asked him to come out of the safety of the boat on to the rough seas (for our purposes this represents our inner journey) and take his hand. In other words to trust against a great deal of fear. So Peter gets out and does fine as long as he does not look down, but keeps his eyes on Jesus. It is the same for all of us, no matter what path we choose, if we wish to keep our ‘yes’ alive, we need to look towards the goal. For the Christian that is our commitment to a loving, trusting, relationship with Jesus Christ.
Within any kind of spirituality, each person will have a unique slant in how to live it out. These differences can be a great help when shared with others in the group that one belongs to. The Holy Spirit will use all of us to minister to others, which is why it is so important in living in community of some sort and to working at the relationships that it calls us to.
When we give a ‘yes’, we embark on a journey that calls for the death of all that keeps us from living out that commitment. In order to continue on this path, self awareness leading to compassion towards self and others needs to be developed, and the understandings that ‘trust’ is a choice, it is not something we all naturally fall into. Some choices are easier than others. For instance, to become bitter and to withdraw is a choice, but one that almost seems instinctive, even if self destructive. To allow community to draw one out of this cycle is to experience the depth of ones freedom to choose, no matter how difficult, or how long the journey is to nurture that life giving freedom to come to fruition. The Lord calls us to choose life.
Our failures are not an ending of commitment, but a call to renew, get up and continue. The real temptation is to not get up but to despair, which is easier than many think possible. All things do work out for the good for those who love Jesus Christ. Our ‘yes’ is often lived out by the simple falling and getting up again. Three steps forward and two steps back.... is still moving forward.
Those who challenge us in any way are a true gift (though often a painful one) that belonging to a community offer us. Not all gifts are pleasant, but each gets what he or she needs. Our judgments, our reactions to others and our failures are a call to deepen our commitment, to grow in patient humility towards ourselves and others, and to live out our ‘yes’ on an ever deeper level…..in all things….and even if progress is not seen, to simply trust and take one more step forward. It is in times of darkness and suffering that we make our freest, deepest choices, to walk the path we have given our ‘yes’ to.