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."
This little gem from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers introduces for most of us a most unexpected bit of advice: If you want to please God, don't rush off. Hang out for a bit. Sink some deep roots. Now, amongst the many vows that monks made in the ancient days, one was the vow of stability. They understood that for most good things to happen in the soul of a person, it takes a long time of hanging out with the same people going deeper and deeper in the things of life. And this feels pretty strage to most of us.
The truth be told the first two lessons offered by Abba Anthony are somewhat standard fare--Keep God before you and order your life by the Scriptures--but this third one is down right radical in a world where people don’t give a second thought to picking up and leaving whenever things aren’t going their way.
How many of us—be honest here even if it’s just in your heart—have bailed on relationships, switched jobs, dumped friends, changed churches, left marriages, and cut and run at the first sign of conflict or trouble. We don’t work through problems, we avoid them. We don’t confront challenges, we flee from them. We don’t stay in any place or in any relationship long enough to experience the depths and joys and lessons of a life lived in one place.
Of course, some, like my friends at Camp Pendleton Marine Base move around a lot out of necessity or calling--but even they should consider whether when they leave, if they do so, too easily. If we do live long in the same community, how many of us could leave it today without a second thought? We have few deep friendships, weak ties, nothing that would make the parting any sorrow at all.
Over the next few posts I want to take up this idea of stability as a spiritual discipline and a key to the life that God wants for us. Amidst all of the reasons to believe that Christian community is important, perhaps we have never really considered that our hanging out would please God.