Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.
Proverbs: 3: 5-6
Dances are part of teenage life. Homecoming and Prom are two big events for every high school year. They are also part of many Greek Orthodox youth functions. It is fairly common at a weekend retreat to have a dance on Saturday night. The last night of summer camp (at least at our summer camp) is a dance. Kids love to dance. Whether it’s Greek music or American music, these events bring high energy and lots of fun. Inevitably, they will want a “slow dance” so they can sway with their “crush” or a group of friends. Of course, when two people are “dancing” that leaves room for the devil and temptation to come in and something inappropriate to happen, even on a public dance floor. So when we have ONE slow dance, we kind of walk around and make sure what is going on is Christian and appropriate. We’ve even used the line “leave room for the Holy Spirit between you.” Which actually we say somewhat facetiously, but it’s actually kind of serious. There are lots of voids in life. And if they aren’t filled by the Holy Spirit, the devil will quickly insert himself in there.
Today’s verses are some of the most beautiful and practical sentiments in the whole Bible and also the most difficult to follow. These verses remind us to leave room for the Holy Spirit in our lives, to trust in the Lord and not rely completely on our own insight.
One of my friends and fellow parents shared with me the two benchmarks she tells her children to check with when making a decision: Is it safe? And is it smart? If the answer to either is no, then what they are thinking about is probably not a good decision. To these two questions, I add three more. Is this decision in line with my character? Will this decision get me closer or farther from my goals? And will this decision please God? Perhaps this last question can be amended to read “Where is God in this decision?” In other words, “Am I leaving room for God to act in this decision or relying solely on my own insight?”
Going back to our last reflection on pondering things, we spoke about pondering big things, the big picture of life, talents, purpose and so on. Pondering is something good to put into even small decisions. We make so many decisions without thinking, and many of these decisions we later regret—a comment made in haste, an email sent in anger, or sometimes even something we should have done but didn’t—things we will have to go back and clean up. I do these kinds of things all the time. If we are honest, we all do. And I can say with certainty, every time I make a bad decision, if I go back and ask myself “where did God factor in my decision making,” the answer will be that He didn’t factor in. I didn’t leave room for Him to factor in. I relied only on my own understanding.
Many of us will be watching football games on Thanksgiving. And you’ll notice that a crucial thing happens in between plays. The quarterback calls a new play in the huddle. But before executing the play, he goes to the line and evaluates how the defense is set up, to make sure that the play he called has a good chance to succeed. If he doesn’t like what he sees, as far as the defensive alignment, he calls a different play at the line. This is called an audible. He doesn’t plow ahead with the play he called because if he does, there is a good chance it will fail. This “pondering” lasts only a few seconds but is critical to the success of each play and thus each game.
In life, we are supposed to “ponder” on many decisions by taking time to pray and to leave room for the Holy Spirit to send His grace into our decisions and their execution and outcome. When you think about it, if someone said “do you want to make this decision based only on your insight or would you like the grace of the Holy Spirit to go into the decision with you,” who wouldn’t want some extra armor around us? And it’s there for the taking if we only take time to ask, and if we can be humble enough to come off our own insights enough to leave room for the Lord to interject His, which actually might be different than ours, maybe not all the time but at least some of the time. I know from personal experience that when I try to micromanage things and leave no room for the Holy Spirit to operate, I may be successful but even my success doesn’t come without some nervousness. When I let thing happen organically and don’t force things, when I take that deep breath of prayer and ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to come into the situation, more often than not I get a Godly outcome (which is not necessarily an outcome I was considering) and I get a better feeling about what I’m doing, since I’m not seeking only my own will but allowing His to come in.
Angelic powers, now proceed! Go to Bethlehem; prepare the manger, for the Word comes to be born. Wisdom proceeds from the mouth of the most high! Receive, O Church of God, the announcement of salvation; enter into the joy of the Theotokos! Let us sing with gladness, people: Blessed is He Who comes: O our God, glory to You! (Praises, Orthros December 20, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: How can our own insights sometimes lead us in the wrong direction?