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Guard your heart

It can be rough out there. With messages competing for your heart, how do you stay on your Christian walk?

Keep watch over your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23

On November 15, the Nativity Fast begins for Orthodox Christians. As Fr. Thomas Hopko says in the first line of his wonderful book Winter Pascha, "When winter begins to make its way into the northern hemisphere, the Church of Christ begins to celebrate a 'splendid three-day Pascha.'"

This is a beautiful time of the year when we have the chance to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. It's a chance for us to quiet our lives and listen to God, to orient ourselves toward God.

As I get ready for the fast, I ask myself about the ways I may be drowning out God's message to me. What seeds I have been planting in my brain and heart with media of all kinds: radio, television, movies, my phone, and my daily conversations. Let's face it - much of the stuff in popular media is about celebrating violence, sex, infidelity, and an array of bad behavior. It's all around each and every one of us - even the magazine covers at the check-out line want to tell us things we don't want to know. Social media can be filled with political vitriol, arguments, mundane distractions, and all kinds of outrageous things people probably would never say in public or face-to-face with other people.

Each of these platforms can be wonderful and edifying, or pretty terrible. It fully depends on what media I choose to participate in. I try to set guidelines for myself about how much time I spend with media and what quality of media I'll take in. I think of myself as a kind of curator, like the curator of an art museum. This is how I guard my mind and my heart.

Here are three ways I plan to spend my Nativity Fast:

  • In study and reflection. Fr. Thomas Hopko's Winter Pascha is a usual companion of mine during the fast. I love how he walks us through this season with liturgical reflections. I am also blessed to be studying in a small group called The Nicea Project where we are exploring the Apostolic teaching via the Scriptures, the writings of the church fathers, and Fr. John Behr's Nicea series as our guides.

  • In worship. The services of the Orthodox Church are a treasure trove of theology. The hymns of the church during this time are the perfect beacons of light for our spiritual path this season.

  • In prayer. My morning commute is a time for the Jesus Prayer, not talk radio or rock and roll. Lunchtime is time for a Psalm. I love walking at night. It is the time I clear my head from the day. I pray and I review the day. Did I offend anyone? Do I have any unresolved things in my mind and heart? Lord, how would you have me use this gift of time that You have given me? May it be blessed.

The bottom line is, I suggest we turn off the TV. We don't need it. The earth won't stop rotating if we do, and we'll be amazed at the transformations that will happen in our minds and hearts.

Have a blessed month.

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