A brother questioned an old man saying, ‘What good work should I do so that I may live?’ The old man said, ‘God knows what is good. I have heard it said that one of the Fathers asked Abba Misterus the Great, the friend of Abba Anthony, and said to him, “What good work is there that I could do?” He said to him, “Are not all actions equal? Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him. David was humble, and God was with him. Elias loved interior peace and God was with him. So, do whatever you see your soul desires according to God and guard your heart.’ “
We have all been given different tasks to accomplish in life. We are expected to do different things, work on different virtues. We should not criticize people if their work in life differs from ours. We should not tell them their work is unimportant, or that they don’t care about what is important if their work and focus differs from ours. God has made us different, and placed different desires in our hearts, and as long as we follow what God has placed in our heart, we do well.
When trying to find our place in the world, it is good to look to the examples of the saints and see how they found their calling and how they accomplished it. The saints are examples of holiness, and so their lives, and their insights, can and do offer us much needed guidance. However, we must not confuse their calling with our own. Each saint is a saint because they followed God and did what he bid them to do with their lives. We are told that we, too, are called by God in the same way. If we want to know what we should be doing in life, we should examine ourselves, and find out what holy desires have been placed in our hearts.
Of course, once we have determined what it is that God has placed in our hearts, once we know what it is we are called to do, we must guard our hearts, that is, we must make sure that we follow through with our desire in a proper fashion. It is one thing to know our lot in life, it is another to properly live it out. We can easily try to find shortcuts to make our life easier – and this is where temptation comes into play.
Temptation presents to us the goods and goals we desire, and then suggests ways to get them which are not exactly proper or just. Temptation tells us that the end justifies the means. However, if we follow temptation to its proper end, we do not even get what it is we desired, but an imitation of it, a simulacra which does not satisfy because it does not have the essential qualities needed for it to be right. Satan tempted Jesus in this fashion. Each of his temptations had something good presented to Jesus (food, protection, possession of the world) but how he was told he should have them was through a means which was not worthy of the Son of God.We must therefore come to proper understanding of ourselves, and that requires us to cleanse ourselves of all undue influences upon our lives. And, as St Anthony the Great wrote, once we know our calling, we must pursue it with all diligence, making sure what we do is actually helping us accomplish our goals:
Truly, my children, I think it is no great wonder, if you neglect yourselves and do not discern your works, that you should fall into the hands of the devil, when you think you are near to God, and that in your expectation of the light, darkness should overtake you.
Throughout our life, to guard our hearts properly, we must continuously educate our conscience and work to keep it pure. If we do so, we will be able to confront our temptations and overcome them. There is no salvation without such a struggle. We must wrestle with God, praying, fasting, taking the sacraments so that with the grace given to us, we will be able to live the life God has intended us to have. We know this is something which is possible because the saints have done so. We also know our path in life can be, and will be, different, than the path God has others to follow. We can learn from the experiences of others, especially the saints; but in the end, we must come to know ourselves and live based the person God has made us to be, not the person God has made out of others. The virtues are good for all to practice, but which ones are we called out to live in our own lives, to make our own? That we will have to find out for ourselves. The kingdom of God is within you (cf. Luke 17:21).