Friday, January 23, 2015

Our Last and Perfect Day

I want to lead you through some simple thought experiments.

First, imagine your "perfect day." Imagine that God (or if it's too hard even to imagine that God would be so kind, then you can imagine a genie instead) granted you one perfect day. Briefly go through that day.

Second, imagine your "last day" as though that day were to be the last of your life. You are not necessarily at the end of your life, old in age; instead, imagine for example that tomorrow were your last day, and after that you knew you would die. Briefly go through that day.

Now, I want you to reflect on what you imagined, and I want to suggest that if you imagined either of these days to be rosy, carefree, processing in the way you wished, or filled with recollection or consolation, where everything seems to go well, sin is avoided, good deeds done, prayer fervent, relations all well, if you even imagined that you woke up in a positive, healthy state (or did you even notice how you woke up when you imagined your days?)—I want to suggest that you actually shouldn't imagine your perfect or last day to be like this. If you equate these days with being on your "best," I will suggest that your "best" doesn't have to do with how you feel, and in fact, your "best" will be what you do in spite of how you feel.

Perhaps many of us wake up already with some sort of stress or burden—lack of sleep, or poor sleep; anxious dreams; immediate worries and plans of the day ahead barge into the mind; problems from the previous day or week creep in; stomach ache or headache. Maybe someone or something else rudely wakes you up. Maybe you sleep through your alarm, and you jolt up to realize you're late to some responsibility. Panic is your first state. Perhaps feelings of humiliation and self-loathing follow. Imagine, also, that you were given the realization that this would be the start of your last day.

Imagine that on the last day of your life, you got into the same petty arguments you normally get into; the misunderstandings that seem to occur when you least expect; the mistakes and embarrassments that always seem to return no matter what resolutions you've made and how often. Imagine people were just the way they always are—most don't care about you; perhaps they don't even extend "common" courtesies, which means they are no longer common.

Thus, we have a tendency to romanticize our perfect day and our last day. We have a tendency to think that everything will go as we hope it will go. We don't ever realize the extent to which these hopes bias even how we imagine this perfect or last day to unfold, right from our rising from bed.

But actually, we have to realize that every day is potentially our last day. And regardless of whether it ends up being our last day or not, we must treat it as though it were our last day. We must give up the romantic idealization that we'll wake up perfectly rejuvenated, with no concerns, or at least with all the feeling of preparation for the concerns and duties that face us for that day. We must give up the idea that every move we make will be elegant and graceful, that every interaction we have will go smoothly and be edifying, that every prayer will be fervent and focused and pious. We must take the day as it is given, and it is given by Providence. How I feel here and now does not form the basic constitution of my day but what I will do with it.

What I will do in spite of what I feel and what the circumstances present, against all my hopes and romantic dreams of when I think I'm doing my very best as opposed to what God believes is my very best. Here we have to realize that my very best is not what I think it to be but is realized by the grace offered me here and now in the everything-but-ideal day. My cooperation doesn't make the less-than-ideal rosy and smooth but helps me die to the expectation that my happiness depends on rosy conditions, that my life is lived best when it is lived most pleasurably, even in spiritual matters, such as fervent prayer and spiritual consolation in the heart.

Therefore, with God's grace, we must use all the vigor of our will power to embrace the present moment. This is called fidelity to grace and the grace of the present moment. This is the point of the practice of the presence of God. This is the way of the Cross, the narrow way, and the only way to happiness.

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