by Molly Sabourin
Despite her trembling limbs and the contorted expression on her tear-stained face, I thought she was graceful and beautiful, like a Barbie Doll. I was seven-years-old, drinking ginger ale straight from the can on a queen-sized bed in a Holiday Inn. On the television screen in our hotel room, a sparkling evening gown clad brunette was attempting to wave to the adoring crowd below her while balancing a crown on her head, a bouquet of roses on her arm. She was elated. I was elated for her. And it all suddenly became crystal clear to me—what I would do with my life. “Someday,” I promised my small self, “I too will promote world peace, and have super shiny teeth. I too will don the white silky sash declaring me, Molly Ann Maddex, to be the one and only official Miss America.”
By fourth grade, I’d wised up. Genuine Miss America sashes, I discovered, were hardly handed out willy-nilly like tootsie rolls at a parade. And I neither sang opera nor tap-danced so I for sure would need a back-up plan. By nine-years-old, I’d embraced a new, more sensible vocational calling. My pat answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” became, “Veterinarian”—a word I still have trouble spelling. I could totally picture myself in a lab coat, soothing a feverish Lhasa Apso, or a fluffy Persian kitten with a splinter in her paw. I’d be important, indispensible to society. I mean, really, who wouldn’t admire me—a skilled and compassionate animal-protecting hero?
In eighth grade, my hormones short-circuited. I spun like a top, haphazardly from one idea, one ideal, to another with dizzying speed. And for the next decade or so, my fluctuating convictions and ambitions continued to spark, flare up passionately and then, inevitably, snuff themselves out when faced with a required amount of prolonged effort I was not prepared to exert. My laundry list of grandiose to-dos included living abroad, writing a novel, never eating meat again, running a marathon, earning a Masters Degree, becoming a college professor. Aaaand zero—I accomplished a grand total of zero of those goals. Instead, I fell madly in love, got married, converted to Orthodox Christianity, bore four children in six years, resulting in the thorough demolition of my self-confidence, sense of entitlement and youthful effervescent energy. It took a long old time to arrive here, at this fruitful place of low, or perhaps I should say realistic, expectations as far as my ability to accomplish or figure stuff out on my own is concerned. Here’s to trusting that in the embracing of my limitations lies the secret to my fulfillment—the fulfillment that always managed to elude me when I attempted to seize it forcibly with my own grubby little fingers.
So that’s what I’ve been up to these days, owning the struggle— trying my best to allow the fun parts, the hard parts, the sad parts, the embarrassing parts, the boring parts all to freely penetrate my soul with their distinct salvific remedies for healing my ailing spirit. When viewed in light of Christ’s mercy, it’s all good, all beneficial, all mysteriously redemptive. In submitting voluntarily to the crosses divinely chosen for me, in order to save me from the anxiousness, jealousy and disappointment connected intimately to my pursuit of worldly accolades and pleasures, I find unexpected rest. My aspirations have been considerably streamlined. I have, as of late, in fact narrowed them down to but one. What do I, presently, want to be (when I grow up, that is), you ask?
Free. Free of fear and self-consciousness.
Recently, I was introduced to the spiritual writings of one Dorotheos of Gaza, a sixth century hermit known for his profoundly insightful sermons. I must say he’s sure done a bang up job of solidifying for me some of my previously uncongealed hunches about how one might obtain such freedom, in order to love and hope unhindered.
If therefore, we desire to be free and enjoy perfect freedom, he wrote, let us learn to cut off our desires and so, with God’s help, in a little while, we shall make progress and arrive at a state of tranquility. For nothing helps men so much as to cut off self-will, for thereby a man prepares the way for nearly all the virtues. ...From this cutting off of self-will a man procures for himself tranquility and from tranquility he comes, with the help of God, to serene indifference.
Hello! There it is—the concise definition of “freedom” I did not even fully realize I was searching for! Serene indifference—those two words strung together pack one powerful spiritual punch. Imagine developing a calm imperviousness to the various stresses your day might hurl at you. Picture yourself absolutely certain that all things truly do work together for the good of those who love Christ. After describing how a person might learn to squelch their obsession with self by keeping silent when he wants to speak, or not assuaging her curiosity—by forming a habit of self-denial in the little things—Dorotheos of Gaza wrote:
Finally he comes not to have any of these extraneous desires, but whatever happens to him he is satisfied with it, as if it were the very thing he wanted. And so, not desiring to satisfy his own desires, he finds himself always doing what he wants to. For not having his own special fancies, he fancies every single thing that happens to him. Thus he is found, as we said, to be without special attachments, and from this state of tranquility he comes to the state of holy indifference.
That’s exactly what I crave, more than anything! Let’s face it, I’d make a ridiculous redheaded middle-aged beauty queen—but maybe, just maybe, I can spread a little world peace this way, even without the sash. Perhaps if I’m loosed from earthly cares I can become for you a taste of heaven, an embodiment of grace. Then you would be blessed, and I would be blessed for having had the sacred opportunity to be a blessing to you—then our hearts would be buoyed by gratitude. Just imagine tossing aside all of those weighty expectations, those damning self-accusations, our cumbersome covetousness, our futile apprehensions, and becoming unsinkable. Now that, my friends, is freedom (the ultimate freedom) so worth dying, and thus living, for.