Sunday, February 04, 2007

Thinking about Stability

Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one do in order to please God?” The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.” – St. Anthony the Great, Third Century

"And you will be saved" - many Christians stumble over these words. But consider Jesus' teaching about who may inherit eternal life - those who follow Christ (Mt 19.29) and who obey the commandments (Mk 10.17-21; Lk 10.25-28). In other words, those who love God and who love others - they will inherit eternal life. The kingdom of God is not something that can be boiled down to mere belief or trust. It is that, certainly. But it is more.

Abba Anthony is answering the needs of those asking the questions. The need may not be the same as your own, but we can learn from his teaching regardless.

And so Abba Anthony, the father of monasticism, said to one who questioned him that three things must be done to be saved: (1) No matter who you are, have God before your eyes. (2) Do everything according to the teaching of the scriptures. (3) Wherever you live, do not easily leave it. (To another, Abba Pambo, one nearer my size, he said, "Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.")

It is the third item that I want to write about today. It's not that I fully understand the first two items, but the third item, the idea of stability, has been stewing in my mind. Abba Anthony tells us, we who are so quick to wish for something different, to be content where we live. Stability was one of the early vows made by monks of certain orders, which also included poverty, celibacy, and obedience.

Why stability? Because there is restlessness in the human heart. This restlessness is a kind of unfaithfulness. It rejects what is for what might be. One stops seeing the bread around him and begins to seek other nourishment. And if such restlessness is given its head, then one becomes useless where he is. One becomes salt that has lost its saltiness.

I have been struggling with stability for the past three years, for much longer if I am honest. I have to wrestle with my understanding of myself as a stay-at-home dad. Of course, most of the time I do not think about it. But people bring it up, things happen. My being a stay-at-home dad was not a decision that was completely mine, if you know what I'm saying. But perhaps my best decisions are ones that don't include me in the decision-making process. Such decisions are the simple, though personally difficult, moving of the hand of God.

So the place I live is home; I am an oddity surrounded by children who invent ways of graying me. My wife loves her job. And I love mine. And though I sometimes wish it were different, she wishes so less than I do. But she does sometimes, and those are hard days for me.

Today I received an e-mail from my mom saying she had spoken on the phone with an old friend from Georgia - some of our oldest family friends, though it has been at least twenty years since we've seen them. My mom told her that I was staying at home with the kids and Mrs. Manning replied that she thought that was wonderful.

That kind of response to my situation comes almost exclusively from mothers. Most men have spent a Saturday afternoon watching the kids and quickly extrapolate from that experience an unwillingness to do so on a full-time basis. Meanwhile, mothers, I believe, are operating out of the principle of Misery Loves Company. "See," they think corporately, their feminine minds psychically connected, "it's the real hardest job you'll ever love." And so it is. And I imagine for most women, it is far more difficult than what I experience, because my wife is so untiringly helpful at home. Most men are ass-sitters; such is my natural state.

But I still grow twitchy at times, wishing I were somewhere else. I hear a myriad of ghosts whispering mad words in my head. And then the soft voice of Abba Anthony cuts through the cacophony: In whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. (Oh, and, Pambo, control your stomach.)

Yes, Abba Anthony. Thank you, father. Pray for me.

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