Come and see. (Editor’s note: #OCFComeAndSee)
That is the message that 320 college students got attending OCF College Conference at three different locations across the US. If you were not one of those students, let me get you caught up. Having attended College Conference East, I can’t speak for what happened in the West or Midwest, but I’m going to guess that many of the messages were similar. Keynote speaker Fr. Timothy Hojnicki and five workshop speakers spoke to us about how to make this phrase, “Come and See,” relevant in our lives, and there was one message that really stood out to me: the best way to spread Orthodoxy is to live Orthodoxy.
So let’s talk about that. It’s a new year, and whether or not you’re into New Year Resolutions, we as college students are going back for another semester, which is a beautiful opportunity to make changes that will lead to spiritual growth. As someone who frequently failed to implement the goals that he makes for himself, I want to spend the five minutes of your attention that I get per month to talk about the attitude with which we should approach these changes. I am going to share with you some thoughts from an under-qualified mind, so all I’m asking is that you take some time to think about what I have to say. Talk to your friends, see if it make sense, get their ideas. We are all working towards spiritual growth, let’s work together to make it happen.
All right, here we go.
1. Have checkpoints, but make sure they’re not the end goal.
This is one of my biggest problems. I make small goals (e.g., read the Bible every day), but I approach it with the mindset that once I reach that goal, I’m done, or that somehow spiritual growth becomes automatic once I do that.
From what I’ve experienced and read, I’m inclined to think that this is not at all how it works.
Once I start reading the Bible every day, not only will it be a struggle to maintain that goal, but I also need to put in my own effort to use that as a step-stool to reach a higher goal. As a musician, I will use a musical metaphor. I might want to play a certain scale at a certain tempo, which is a great goal. However, most recital audiences could not care less how quickly I can play that scale unless I can use that skill to make something musical happen. So not only do I need to practice to make sure I can keep playing that scale well, but I need to use that scale (and whatever else I have grown in) to push me down the path of becoming a great trombone player.
2. You’re going to fail, probably. Especially if you rely on your own strength.
I hate this one. I would get this advice all the time, and it would just make no sense to me. I should just approach my goal of reading the Bible every day assuming that I will fail? Isn’t that setting me up to fail? Now, 1,687 failed goals later, I realize why this advice is given. I would approach my goals with the assumption that my strong work ethic and determination would get me through.
One problem with that: five days later, when I’m really tired, thrown off my routine, and really just want to watch Netflix instead, my end goal flies out of my head and my human will is crushed. Then once that happens, I have no plan to get back into it. I thought I would succeed, so what do I do now that I failed? If I cited Netflix as my reason for not reading the Bible today, why can’t it be my reason tomorrow? Will my work ethic and determination fail me again?
Now let’s stop here and come up with a better approach. Let’s start with prayer, just taking a quick moment asking God to help us do this. Then we will game plan. We know that we at least have a shot whenever we remember the end goal–becoming like God–and how our goal will get us there: in my case of reading the Bible, giving me both direct information on how to become like God and a structural foundation that will help me use other tools such as readings from saints and divine services to work towards my aforementioned goal.
If you have a short attention span like me, you will forget that end goal (and how your task gets you there), and the task you are working on becomes much harder. You probably will fail to complete it once or twice (or much more than that). Here is the most important lesson from this section of my essay: don’t freak out about it (like I always would). You fail, you are ashamed for having failed, and you don’t want to think about your goal anymore. Remember: you are not relying on your own strength, you are relying on God to help you. Your own strength failed you this time, but tomorrow, with God’s help, you got this.
These are Paul’s strategies for goal-setting that Paul can use to carry out his goals better. Are they applicable in your life? Maybe. I’m no goal expert (like Sidney Crosby is, let’s go Pens!), but perhaps these are either directly applicable, or you can take bits and pieces from them. Talk with friends, see how they approach their goals. If we talk about these things, we can learn from others’ mistakes instead of having to make them ourselves. And if we don’t take their advice and do end up making the same mistake, we acknowledge that our stubborn head needed that, and we get up and try again. May God give us the strength to keep getting up, no matter how many times we get knocked down, so that we can keep making spiritual progress on the path towards Him.
Paul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.