Fancy designer clothes, sports cars, Swiss watches, sumptuous palaces, … all this never really interested me. In fact, until recently I was not at all attracted to luxury, in any form whatsoever. On the contrary, it tended to make me uncomfortable. A few events in Michelin-starred restaurants and magnificent reception rooms organized by my engineering school, or rare stays – if we can call one night a stay – in Parisian luxury hotels with girlfriends for our birthdays; these moments, even more precious in my eyes that they were only sporadic, were my first contacts with luxury.
Simple tastes, you can say that again, in fact in my case one could squarely speak of an appetite for simplicity. Though being more regularly in contact with it, I was amazed a few years ago to notice I still didn’t develop a taste for luxury: because it must be said, just as for many of my colleagues, the many business trips paid by my employer could have got me used to the five-star hotels, flights with prestigious companies, company SUV cars in countries where the petrodollar flows like water. And yet, all this was not enough to rid me of this preference for the simple, the discreet, the non-shining. Since then, it has changed a little: my last expatriation in Qatar certainly played a role, but as we will see later, it took much less than that to really make me abandon this deeply anchored state of mind in me.
I wonder today how came about such a strong trend in my behavior. In reality, more than a preference for the simple it was a strict rejection of luxury. Out of avarice, I don’t think so, out of disregard for the material, perhaps, but above all – and that’s what literally revealed itself to me in pain, out of guilt, certainly.
I don’t know what triggered what was originally just a sneaky feeling. I do not know what was the mechanism that animated and reinforced this state of mind in me. All I know is that when any idea was popping up in my mind, associating luxury with my person, a question inevitably arose: why me?
Truth be told, it goes much further than luxury. As for me, this reflex of thought occurs in many other cases, in such a way that I came to wonder if it was not the very notion of pleasure to which my mind had become allergic. It’s a bit extreme, but at the same time the clues are too numerous to deny it. On the outside, for a long time and on a recurring basis I have been hearing my family, my friends, my colleagues saying to me: « you are too kind, be careful! », « you should think of yourself before thinking about others otherwise you will get screwed », « why is your life so complicated while you facilitate those of others? ». Without paying more attention, and this was my case, one could simply deduce: usual pattern of the deep down altruist, misunderstood by his relatives and living in an increasingly selfish world. But what is wrong with this diagnosis – in addition to the fact that some of the relatives quoted are as much or even more generous than me, is what happens inside. A few examples. I used to feel guilty when passing near a homeless person sleeping on a metro platform. (Ok, fair enough) I used to feel guilty when seeing a person left standing during a meeting because of not enough chairs planned. (Well, a little weird, that said if you sat last…) I used to feel guilty when guessing that I was about to win card game and that the other would therefore necessarily lose. (Hum? Wait, what?)
I am convinced that I am a generous person and animated by good feelings towards others, even if it sometimes involves making certain sacrifices, and to me there is no problem with that. Actually, it is also one of the founding principles of the Christian faith, « love your neighbor as yourself », « there is more pleasure in giving than in receiving », « give to the one who asks you », … However, what was problematic for me was the fact that even when nothing was expected from me, that it was simply about me and my pleasure, my comfort, or just, my well-being, something in me was blocking, something considering that I did not deserve all this.
As a rule, the things that concern me are relatively complicated. It’s as if it comforts me that not everything is easy for me. The more complicated it is and the more I struggle, the more a strange feeling of satisfaction and comfort increases in me, until it confirms me « there, it’s good, everything is fine, you are in your place ». In fact, I have long lived with the omnipresent thought of not deserving. Not to deserve what? Many things, if not all. In a similar way to what I believe to be a sham of some ecologists, who are in fact stingrays of the first order, my altruism and my simplicity are only the mask and the costume carefully conceived by a deep unlove of myself.
Wait, I do not hate myself though, far from it. Besides, another of my flaws is a well-hidden pride though rooted in my personality. This is quite paradoxical given the rest of this article, but we will come back to it later. Without hating myself, I’m in a system of thought where I can’t, or very hardly, appreciate myself, what I’m doing or saying. To be able to achieve this, I would need an approval: either an external one, by what others think of me, or an inner one, by my satisfaction in the complication. And this is the second case whose reality brutally imposed on me during an evening of a business trip in Italy. Everything was going very well since my arrival a few days earlier. Indeed, as I said above, my company knows how to put its employees in very good conditions for working abroad: rental of a high-end sedan, lunches in the local gastronomic restaurants, and mostly stay in a 4-star hotel on the shores of Lake Como. Everything is fine, but as usual I am embarrassed. I know how to pull the wool over my colleagues’ eyes, but deep down I do not feel in my place. It is in my room where, out of sight, I can give free rein to my « simplicity »: for example, use of as few wardrobes as possible even if it means keeping my suitcase half full, concealment of the remains of shower gels and shampoos so that they are not replaced by room service, and also prohibition to use heating given the little time spent in the room each day. With this, one could see a lazybones, a green, a practical guy, … But how to explain the fact of moving around your room without turning on the light on a dark night and with all the variety of furniture that such a high-standing hotel can contain? Even if I am thrifty, I will not be the one paying the bill of the room and even less the electricity bill. Even if I think about the environment, the red light of the TV’s standby mode consumes every day as much as the light bulb I would have needed for a few minutes. And even, yes, even if I am lazy and think to myself that it is not worth turning on just for the time I will do the few meters from the bed to the bathroom, the probability of bumping my little toe, at full speed against the foot of a solid oak chair, is simply much too high. And it didn’t miss.
You know this progressive pain that starts from a tiny place (bitten tongue, phalanx crushed by a hammer, or, more rarely, dislocated shoulder) and that radiates slowly in your body as if it were all your limbs that were hurting. In general, there automatically follows a flood of insults that your mouth will irrepressibly, shout, churn, or whisper depending on the time of day and the profiles of the people around you. In my case it was a slight whisper, imperceptible to the guests of the neighboring rooms, but heavily loaded with the coarsest words I know. The intense pain, which was that of a fracture according to the doctor I saw later, made me hate this chair, firstly, and especially hate myself, in a second phase.
I don’t know if because of the dazzling ache that crossed my foot we could speak of a flash of clarity, but one thing is certain, it is that an awareness began to operate in me from this moment. I saw myself, still in the dark, holding my foot, almost having tears in the eyes – from pain or anger or both, getting angry against a chair when the problem was myself: the chair was where it should be, me not. I was in the dark, I was advancing in the dark, that night especially but also every other day of my life. I did not allow myself the light. What for? I still cannot answer this question today, but it was an undeniable fact in any case and my toe was both the witness and the victim of that.
Jesus Christ said, « I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but he will have the light of life. » It took me quite some time to understand that in my case, the darkness is mainly those that I imposed on myself and for most of my existence. This incident of the broken little toe had allowed me to realize that « the light was off », it still had to be turned on. This is precisely what my faith in Jesus helped me to do. Today I gradually manage to get rid of my darkness thanks to him, as I let his saving light drive it away, as I learned to accept to be loved by a God who more than once proved to me and to so many others his infallible love. It has nothing to do with the approval that I was looking for in complications or with others appreciation, and the effect is oh so much more authentic. Knowing that I’m loved by God unconditionally and even despite all my actions, words or thoughts, which in theory should disqualify me from this love, transforms the previously inconceivable idea of loving myself into an obvious one: him loving me despite everything he sees in me through his perfect knowledge, shows me that I should not seek to deserve his love or that of anyone, but rather that I deserve to be loved by anyone, and it starts with myself. Here it is no longer about that muted pride that, like an ersatz of love, helped me to endure the lack of love by making me consider myself better than others through disguised means: to be the kindest in the eyes of all, to pass for the humblest, to appear the most generous. No, it’s called living through the eyes of others. It can help to endure, but not to fill the gap. The lack, I managed to fill it with Jesus Christ and his limitless love.
As Blaise Pascal said: « There was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself.” In the end, I who was apparently lacking in love for myself, I am now overflowing. And unlike narcissists or simple egocentrics, this surplus of love did not lead me to focus on myself, it rather turns my gaze towards others, towards my neighbor. It is true that it first contributed to me, finally allowing myself complete well-being, comfort, pleasure and even luxury, which I once excluded from my life. But this powerful remedy has had even more beneficial side effects than simply healing my love of myself. Indeed, above I quoted one of the founding principles of the Christian faith: « love your neighbor as yourself ». This biblical principle, like most others, is based on Love. And it is even doubly relying on it because it is divided into two parts: a first turn towards others, « love your neighbor », and a second centered on oneself, « like yourself ». This is the power of the love of Jesus Christ, the one who cannot leave indifferent, which itself does not change but that changes everything it touches. It does not only come to touch us, splash us, it floods us, to the extent that we have only one option left to us: first to let us fill, that is to say to love ourselves because he loves us, then to overflow all around us like a river in flood, that is to say to love others and even the world around us – the living or not living beings of the nature created by the hand of God as well as the many and varied creations of man. Much more precious than luxury, I have gained something of inestimable value, the Love that changes us and with which we can change the world.
Sunshine, lots of sunshine, the most beautiful landscapes, love, perhaps, but most importantly, myself: it was my ambitious checklist of things to find in a few days off in Italy. Apulia, alone with my camping bag and my rented Fiat, but also with my wounds still too fresh from a difficult break. I was expecting a nice holiday, but this express stay in the South had much more in store for me.
To get some reading, I took a book with me — well two since I never travel without my Bible. It was Happiness: a philosopher’s guide, by Frédéric Lenoir. Despite all the good I could hear from this writer; I had a hard time opening this book after my ex offered it to me with great kindness. And I had even more trouble taking it with me during this vacation where I was definitely trying to be alone in front of myself, and not one-on-one with a philosopher, who according to the fourth cover, wanted to help me find well-being through a watered-down remix of concepts about happiness and spirituality.
Okay, I am a little hard on him. As I am with so many others, who, according to critics, are the Avengers of the pursuit of happiness, or the Justice League of the fight against depression. In fact, it’s even unfair on my part since I find his book — and many others of this much popular genre — well written and above all rich in references, ideas, examples, which can surely inspire us, guide and enlighten us at any stage of our lives. But what actually bothers me is the promise, of the author, sometimes, or the publisher, too often. The promise that « this time he solved the equation of happiness, » or « that’s it, she solved the mystery of the human spirit, » or even better « they really discovered what you always wanted to know about yourself. » For me, it feels like being served with unisex and ready-to-wear answers to millennia of complex and profound questions.
In short, let us go back to this Italian holiday! I finally took my ex’s book, and above all, I read it, despite a journey of more than 1000km punctuated by dazzling images: the green reliefs of Gargano National Park, along a winding coastal road linking towns and villages, such as the picturesque Vieste; Lecce’s baroque decorations, whose harmoniously arranged monuments around Piazza Sant’Oronzo are designed with the warm and blonde stone, typical of the city; the idyllic panorama of Polignano a Mare, with its turquoise water that timidly offers coolness via a narrow cliff-side pebble beach; the bowels of the Canyon in which legends such as those of the beautiful Massafra and its green ravine still resonate, dotted with medicinal herbs and « magical » caves. All these roads, these landscapes, gave me the illusion that my painful and guilty memories were gradually moving away, I felt that they gave way to peace and well-being, although they were circumstantial: gastronomy, music and Italian beauty helping.
But on a stormy evening, stuck in my tent, a sentence from the famous book had shaken up this bliss of a time. A definition, in a few words, clearly stated. The author, I admit with courage and pedagogy, proposed nothing more or less than a definition of happiness, « happiness is the consciousness of a state of global and lasting satisfaction in a meaningful existence based on truth. » Taken out of context, this sentence even as I write it seems to sound hollow. Yet Frédéric Lenoir, through references and illustrations, proposes a definition of happiness that is both tangible and accessible. It even proposes different ways of practical application arising from it, in the light of ancient concepts such as stoicism, Taoism or skepticism. Oddly enough, even if I remained admiring of the rich and ambitious approach of this book, crystallized in this definition, what destabilized me that night was not my admiration but rather my disappointment. A fascinating disappointment not to find myself in this definition, not to find myself in his definition. Indeed, the more I read and reread this sentence as a magic formula, the more I realized that it had no effect on me. I understood it, it was well-crafted, it held up and probably had to speak to a lot of people, but I could turn it around, upside-down, it did not work for me. I wanted to be alone for my vacation, I was served! Certainly, the book, this definition, led me to an interesting question about an item that was not on my checklist: what is happiness? But it also left me in front of a great void that I had never been careful of before: am I happy? It was hard, even brutal. Struck by the pleasures for the senses of my journey, such an existential question that arose without warning had the effect of a cold shower. The rain pouring outside was probably a factor. Precisely downcast but not resigned, that evening I prayed a little longer than usual, a little louder than usual. I needed help, answers, happiness, if possible.
The next morning, my tent had survived, the storm had passed, but it had left behind a greyness and a damp cold that did not come to settle my concerns. As I used to do frequently at that time, I read the daily mail of the Christian newsletter A Miracle Every Day, to which I had recently subscribed. This daily message of hope often did me good, and mostly brought me a salutary perspective on the hassles of everyday life. And it started well, the first sentence of the mail reminded me strangely of my last evening: « Have you ever read these magazine titles… « Finally become yourself! », « Find harmony »… ». However, that day it was not really the message itself that was supposed to light up my day, there was a link to the music video of a song that the author was recommending. Out of curiosity I clicked, and suddenly found myself drawn into an unlikely chain reaction of emotions and inspirations. The beauty and originality of the clip made of a succession of speedpainting sequences, the singer’s suave and hypnotizing voice accompanied by an effective piano melody, the lyrics that seemed to just come straight from heaven: this combination was enough to make me go back and forth between laughter and tears, and to make me aware of a certainty, I was happy. Not only was I happy, I was convinced of it, but above all I knew why I was happy: because I had just chosen to be happy.
It was as simple as that and I had just realized it. I had found my happiness without looking for it, deciding to live it. This song, in addition to having moved me, had brought back to my mind many passages of the Bible about happiness. From the Beatitudes in the new testament to the Ten Commandments in the old one, a multitude of phrases that until then had remained rather mysterious to me, finally seemed evident to me with this new perspective that was open to me. Happiness is not achieved, it is not reached, it is decided and lived. The only notion of pursuit of happiness is a heavy lie that we have created ourselves, or at least a misunderstanding— if fortuitous. In the Bible, God says that he gives us the choice between life and death, happiness and unhappiness, but he also says that he has plans for us of happiness and not of unhappiness. Therefore we merely have to want to be happy, to make the choice of happiness in all good conscience and all that it implies, in particular, to follow God on his path, to be guided by him with blind confidence. What is powerful about this approach is that instead of pursuing happiness we finally find ourselves looking for God, who leads him to find ourselves, to find our true aspirations, our deep hopes. And God is committed to fulfilling them, to letting us fulfilling ourselves, because that’s what he wants, and by putting everything in action at our level for that, we accept a very simple but super profitable deal: « you want happiness, I give it to you, just do what I tell you to make it work ».
As I write this article, it has been more than 2 years since I had this memorable experience, that I found my definition of happiness. Ironically, I am in Italy but in the North, in winter and moreover for business. Looking behind me, during these 2 years, I had time to heal from my wounds but to experience new ones, to see radiant summers and dark storms. And what I can testify to today is that whatever events I have been through in this short period of my life, my happiness, this chosen state of trust and hope in a good God who actually brings me closer to him every day, closer to myself, and to my well-being, that very happiness, it works for me and it has never failed me.
This article refers to the newsletter A Miracle Every Day, available freely on this website https://unmiraclechaquejour.topchretien.com/ and the music video of Peggy Polito’s song « Viens dans ma vie », available on YouTube here.
It is amazing what a simple picture can communicate, without any words yet with so many emotions. More than 5 years ago this sculpture of the Burning Man festival challenged me while I was just looking for a nice background photo for my phone. More than 5 years ago, again, this is partly about my ex or rather the period of my life that I shared with her. It is becoming a habit; my articles often talk about it. Some might see it as a ghost breakup, which still haunts me after all these years, or an unspoken (and unspeakable?) love, to a person I have chosen to remove from my life.
Yet the questions raised by my references to this painful past are far from those of a masochistic and nostalgic gaze, turned towards a time that has certainly brought many tears but also so many bursts of laughter, or those of an illusory hope of the « what if? », which knows how to replay in our minds just like a genius director the best — and theworst, with more passion, better lighting and, always, the happy-end that goes well.
No, those questions are resolutely looking forward, more than ever in my life. This lust for life that I have recently discovered in me calls me to jump with all my strength towards my future, but for this I need to take all the necessary support on my past, in order to go as far, as high as possible.
Why this picture? What does it show? What did it tell me at the time? Love, this work by Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Milov (photo credit: thestevenjames), depicts two adults of metal back to back, two adults with apparently nothing more to say to each other. But the two children in them, shining with a bright light, turned towards each other, seem to still have everything to say to each other. The welded metal bar structures that make up the adults were certainly not chosen randomly. Like prisons, they lock up in them these children who, if they could, would go towards each other, throw themselves into each other’s arms.
Even if at the time I discovered this picture it was still going rather well in my couple, like a bad omen, it showed me the drama that plays out every day in the lives of so many couples, families or even friendships, the drama that would play out a few years later between my ex and me.
For me this picture, before talking about love, as the name of the sculpture indicates it, speaks of forgiveness, a forgiveness that we cannot give each other when we should, when we would like to. It speaks of the fact that in us there is this child’s soul who just wants to forget those arguments, those grudges, those wounds, just to return to our games, to our laughter, to our happiness. And it also speaks of the fact that on the outside there is this carcass, this heavy framework of our rigidized habits, our structured — and structuring — attitudes, which prevent us from taking the first step, from opening the door to new possibilities.
I literally lived this picture, not only in my couple, but in various relationships and at various levels of affection. But every time, while I believed that the only memory of this sculpture, like a totem, could give me the strength not to let the drama happen again, not to let the child be imprisoned in the adult, I found myself — just like the other in front — trapped in the mechanism of conflict, in the machinery of resentment, the quicksand of apprehension, in which every second that passes seems to drive us ineluctably from all hope of pacification.
Forgiveness, the word is said. This word that fascinates, that makes both dreaming and trembling. This word that we idealize, elevates in chimera, above our too sordid realities. Or for others, this word that we submit to our will, that we censor, that we frame with meticulously drawn and marked borders. Indeed, here we mainly have two schools: those who believe in the power of forgiveness but do not do it, as an unspeakable superstition, a shameful belief, to which one cannot abandon himself completely, for fear of disappointment after being turned down flat by the opposing side – the friends of « I would love to forgive him, but I don’t know if I’m able to »-; and those who, failing to believe or even understand its power, choose to tame forgiveness, to tolerate it, but according to their own rules of the game, a game in which of course they never lose —the defenders of « I have forgiven, but I have not forgotten ».
But what about unconditional forgiveness, palpable forgiveness? If we push to extremes, we must ask ourselves the question of the forgiveness that allows us to hear still today incredible testimonies of fathers forgiving the murderer of their child, of women forgiving their rapist, of entire communities forgiving their oppressor of a whole century. Is it fake? Is there a trick? I’ve been looking for it, so far I haven’t found the transparent threads that an illusionist would be drawing behind the scenes of those shattered lives, the special effects that a prodigious director would be using to magnify these tragic miscellaneous news items. Finally, the only magician I was able to discover during my personal and existential questioning about forgiveness, it is Jesus. His subversive doctrine in his time but still revolutionary today has brought to light a power in the human being that is still too often unsuspected or even unknown nowadays. Indeed most of the time we are wrong about forgiveness, and doubly. Not only because we underestimate its effectiveness and reality in our lives, but also because we mistakenly believe that the first beneficiary of forgiveness – if not the only one – is the forgiven.
A sentence I heard one day during a sermon completely reversed my mindset and opened my spirit to the true potential of forgiveness. « Forgiveness is the most selfish act that can be committed, for it has the power to completely free us exclusively from the evil that the Other has done to us, while leaving the latter to his own guilt ».
I found it extremely powerful! To realize this, we need to remember what a conflict is. Etymology helps here because conflict could be translated by » the act of fighting together. » Together! As we hear it, it sounds implausible. When the origin of a conflict is the break that will turn two people into enemies opposing each other, and even in many cases breaking up emotionally or diplomatically, we learn here that in the end the first thing that this break creates is an object in common, an unwanted but indeed present offspring: the conflict itself. That is, as long as a conflict can last, the two people he opposes will bind, grow attached to each other, even sometimes love to hate each other. Once this notion was clarified, I could understand more easily how forgiveness is an exclusive privilege: it allows me, to preserve my peace and my well-being by unilaterally denying the other his right to conflict, his invitation to fight together.
Today, I imagine the number of times in my life where I could have used that power. I think of the time I would have won, the headaches that I could have spared myself — in the end all this is not so selfish because the other would realize at some point what he also has to gain, and my past couple experience which, even if not saved, could at least have been paced and ended more peacefully.
In the gospels it can be read how Jesus replied to Peter asking him how many times he should forgive the one who would harm him: « you will forgive him 70 times 7 times. » Put into context, his answer evokes the infinity of the power of forgiveness once our mind opens to it, and not a heavy and almost inhuman burden imposed by God on humans. Indeed, forgiveness is a gain, an overpowering gift that allows us to get rid of the chains of grief and resentment, while creating in the other a possibility, for him also, to get out of the trap mixed with guilt and pride that would close slowly but steadily on him without ever undoing its embrace. From the moment we understand it, we can then enter a hugely different reality, where peace is cultivated and harvested at hand, like a child’s play.
I was also able to discover, that the first step of forgiveness, as simple as it may seem, is vital, not only for the relationship that is at stake but also for oneself. This first step is to forgive yourself. It is sometimes obvious, and sometimes much more complex, but in a conflict there is very often some guilt on both sides. Even those who consider themselves aggrieved may either regret actions or words that could have hurt the other one and possibly led to the reaction of the latter that ultimately hurt them in turn; or outright conclude through convoluted psychological mechanisms that they are ultimately solely responsible for the harm that has been done to them. Whether you’re the responsible for the wound or the wounded, forgiving yourself seems to be something quite easy when it is just said, but I’ve had the opportunity to realize more than once that the collateral damages created in a conflict, that second wound that consist in guilt, is actually much harder to heal than we think. In any case, it all starts there: in the same way that I think we can’t love the other one without learning to love ourselves first, we can only win the war against hate with the power of forgiveness if we let the latter win its first battle inside us.
I am far from being a saint, and the picture still taunts me regularly today. Emotions, habits, instinct of defense – or attack, there are so many things in us that make us miss wonderful moments, or even entire blocks of life. But what helps me is to think about what I missed, what I would miss without forgiveness: so many laughs, so many sharing, so much love. Forgiveness is real, I am convinced about it today. I saw its power in action: in the Bible, in History, in lives like of Kim Phuc, survivor of a Napalm attack in south Vietnam, that of Pope John Paul II, seriously wounded during an attempted murder in Rome, that of the Amish community, bereaved by the West Nickel Mines School killing, those of the Tutsis and The Hutus, who after civil war and the genocide of the former by the latter are now living in peace in Rwanda.
Yes it is real, and I also want to enjoy it maybe alone or, I hope, with all those who, if they wish to, if they forgive themselves first and forgive me then, will be able to use with me this power that can change the world.
To an unforgettable and
never forgotten friend
« How can a week pass so quickly? », both disillusioned and fascinated by the foolproof mechanism of the seven brothers Day, I kept repeating this observation to myself at every stealthy encounter with their elder, which left me with this unpleasant and ironic impression that, in the end, everything was working against me, even the Sun.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and… Sunday. I had tried everything: checklists, schedules, reminders on my phone, books helping to manage time better, even by way of the coward accusation of my girlfriend at that time who, according to my in-depth analysis, was the only culprit, the crux of the problem because she was overloading our schedule – it’s already a bit strong, but wait, I did much worse than that. In short, so many poor attempts without success that left me every end of the week with this feeling of helplessness faced with the time that was flying, always faster.
Yes, of course there were holidays, anyhow holidays are always good. With two weeks, or even three for the most ambitious ones, I was embarking in the crazy project to cut myself off from time (well rather « we » than « I » , since the culprit was also of the adventure), to let go the maddening heptad of days wherever it suits them as long as they leaved us in peace for a given period. Through a great deal of stays in nice places, or trips into the country combining sport and discovery, or just breaks at home in order to finish everything we promised ourselves to do last year, it actually worked pretty well – it’s just as well, considering the heavy means implemented. But for how long does it work? Because, as for time, he did have the merit to respect his part of the contract, letting us swagger without worries while he continues to operate his well-oiled seven days machine at full pace, and that’s where it hurts. He worked in our absence, and he didn’t fake it: the pile of mail pouring out on us at the opening of the mailbox, the endless list of emails and the phone harassing us as early as Monday morning starts, the heavy loaded bills which apparently were just waiting on our tanned faces and empty pockets to assault us. Finally, the comeback after vacation, the coming back to reality, was soon reviving my end of the week’s observation, my desperate question, even if there it was about almost an entire month. « So what? Does that mean someone must spend his life on holidays without ever coming back, seriously is that a solution?”
Between becoming a billionaire in order to take it easy all life long, and living as a recluse away from the world in order to free oneself from its frantic pace, this solution that I was envisioning for an instant turned out to be more like a dead end. So far it may seem banal and even funny. But looking back at it today, I realize that I stayed in this dead end for an exceedingly long time, too long. In fact, long enough to gradually give up everything out of my work, my family/couple, and my church. Long enough, to start feeling the frustration of someone who sees other people, apparently, living their life while I was dreaming mine. Long enough, to finally reach the breaking point of my couple, and for sure there were many other important reasons for this, but my misunderstanding and my denial of my ex’s legitimate need to merely spend time with me played a role in my sudden decision to break up with her, in spite of the fact that we had been together for more than five years and that it was on her birthday – I warned you…
Reading all this, one can wonder how today I have been able to get out of this dead-end where time flying for my eyes was also flying away with my life. Well, even myself, I sometimes find it hard to believe. Yet, there has been an emergency exit that presented itself to me, or rather two: truth and love.
Indeed, it happened in two stages, and with two different sources of motivation.
As for truth, it is what I found when I got closer to God. With a common expression that annoys me a little, and according to the words of those around me, I was already « very religious », but that didn’t prevent me from missing quite a few essential things of the Christian faith that I had not yet understood, and things that I didn’t practice.
In the Bible, there are many references to the fact that God is mastering time, unlike us who are subjected to it. So far it is apparently simple and common, given the rather general notion of an omnipotent, GodAlmighty, widespread at least in most monotheistic religions. However, there are also many references to a notion that is a little more difficult to grasp: the Sabbath, or Shabbat. Even if it is not always by this word meaning ceasing in Hebrew that it is referred to in the Bible, we often find this concept of intentional rest in which one makes the choice to stop working, producing, doing, in accordance with the will of God.
As far as I was concerned, in addition to not applying it, I have long wondered why this Sabbath should have me stopping any activity for a whole day, even on Sundays. Indeed, one of the problems I encountered during my restless weeks, was that even on weekends I found myself overwhelmed, not by work certainly, but by everything I didn’t do during the week: shopping, cleaning, cooking, entertainment, meeting friends or relatives and church, among others. Unfortunately, it was very easy to fill up those two little days, where even the entertainment — which I didn’t add to the list by mistake, was becoming a duty since in the midst of all these relatively constraining activities, having fun was becoming a must at least to justify the name weekend. So how could one afford to lose a whole day when there was so much to do. That’s where it gets interesting.
Above, I mentioned the coming back to reality when talking about the end of holidays. Well in those days, my reality was that I couldn’t do everything I had to during the week, even worse, it was literally impossible, and the to-do list was growing inexorably. In fact, by refocusing on my Christian faith I understood that the Sabbath, and more generally the intentional rest desired by God, was a truth that I could embrace to let it come into my life and break this negative reality.
This truth consists in a bond of trust. For our part, we are committed to doing what we have to as best possible, and in the way God asks it, except during a specific period when we choose to rest and trust God for all that we didn’t have time to do until then. For his part, God is committed to shielding us from any negative effect eventually resulting from what we don’t do during our resting period, trusting us to do things like he asks during the rest of the time.
In practice, I chose Saturday for my Sabbath. Not according to tradition at all — the Sabbath is indeed on Saturdays and not Sundays unlike what I thought, but rather by force of habit. A habit taken during a year and a half of expatriation to Qatar. Paradoxically, this country in the Arabian Peninsula, like the emirate of Dubai, is mainly associated with luxury and leisure, while people work TREMENDOUSLY there (and I weigh my words). I cannot compare my experience to the one of the poorest workers there, whose strength and zeal for living impressed me much more than the luxury cars and lavish malls. But still, there I worked every day except Friday. It was weird, yet over time I got used to it. And when I was finally given my Saturday off because of a drop in my project’s activity, believe me or not, but at first I did not know what to do with an extra day off. Imagine, after more than a year of intense work while managing to do my personal activities during the week and during a weekend of one day, this grace of a Saturday off seemed almost too much to me. But it didn’t last.
Motivated by the Bible and my own body crying out for rest, I finally tested the Sabbath experience. And the first Saturday I started at full throttle: sleeping in, swimming pool, spa, and dinner in a restaurant. A small detail but that has its importance, being single before and during my stay there, I was able to enjoyer these activities Me, Myself, and I. It might sound gloomy, but you will see a little further why it was beneficial to me. So, it was a first Saturday of a king or rather of an Emirati, but as not everyone who wants to be a Qatari has the money to do so, I quickly calmed down to return to a normal lifestyle and simpler pleasures. Over the course of my resting Saturdays, I rediscovered the enjoyment of reading for leisure, cooking for pleasure, and lazing around… for lazing around, or as Italians say, for the farniente (far–niente meaning not–doing–anything).
Before this application of the Sabbath I was already doing my best trying to follow the commandments of God (which are more like good advices on life, it is when you apply them that you get to realize it), but surprisingly the list of tasks, which I would normally desperately try to reduce during my new day off, began to shrink on its own. For me there are two explanations for this.
The first, probably difficult to conceive but which I believe, is that God has indeed complied with his part of the bond: for example by having a person spontaneously and regularly preparing me a big dish avoiding me to cook for the week, or by suddenly solving a complicated issue with my bank sparing me the long queue before an interview with my advisor. Some call those happy coincidences… And the second, more tangible, is that by embracing this mindset of intentional rest, quite quickly I found myself putting my life and my little problems into perspective. Subsequently I started to realize that at the end of the day such and such appointments or given tasks were not that important, or even not necessary at all.
All in all, the bond of trust proposed by God was working well, my insurmountable to-do list was shrinking while I was enjoying a life-saving rest, what more could anybody ask?
At first glance nothing. I was proudly applying my magic solution and telling anyone who would listen about its positive effects on my pace, my life, which had caught its breath a little. However, without admitting it, I was feeling deep inside that something was missing, out of fear that my emergency exit would not really be one, or out of superstitious religion which was concealing an even greater discovery. That second emergency exit, which in fact complements the first one, this time has not been found through my reading of the Bible. And yet it could have been, it should have been! Yes, today I feel stupid not to have seen this essential point earlier. Like the nose on the face, or more like the elephant in the living room: harmless and resolutely good when one take care of it, it can turn into a problem and a big one when no attention is paid to it.
The Christian faith is based on love, God’s love first and the love for others. It’s what Jesus himself has relentlessly called to mind through his kind teaching to his disciples and his accusing reproaches to the priests of his time, in particular with this powerful allocution: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It is both beautiful and full of meaning, but still it’s necessary to detect in those words a key that I haven’t realized by then, at least not by myself.
I said I was single before and during my expatriation, but I didn’t talk about the end of it. I had the chance to experience a beautiful relationship with the one who, initially as a friend, has occupied an important place in my life, and was behind my second emergency exit. A story too short unfortunately but that was worth living and that taught me a lot. Sadly, I think it is partly because she felt some kind of fault in my love towards her, that she quickly understood my problem. Indeed, loving one’s neighbor as yourself requires necessarily to start with loving yourself. But despite all my attentions, my will to be there for her — intensified by my disastrous experience with my ex, despite the beginning of a (I presume) love affair; it’s with a comparison between what I was doing for myself and what I was doing (or would like to do) for my neighbors, for her among others, that she saw right through me.
« You don’t love yourself!”. As brutal as it can sound, she said those words to me in a very calm way while we were discussing on how I was managing my time, and the multitude of things I was giving myself to do while painfully achieving only a part of them and not even with the expected results. I had surely already heard that, perhaps with other words, I had already glimpsed it during personal review exercises, but this was the first time I really understood it. Like all truth that comes to question us, I felt in me she had put her finger on something, on a fault I had let become an abyss. All things I had lost before because of my problematic apprehension of time, all this frustration from feeling my life flowing out of me like a hemorrhage, ironically started from a wound in me, small, but with disastrous consequences. Self-love, unlike self-esteem or pride, is not what you look for in the eyes of others, in mirrors, this is what you find in yourself and that others can detect as they look at you. And she, rightfully, had not detected it in me.
Despite the difficulty of admitting such a lack, I have managed to rebuild step by step that love for Me. I didn’t go to the extent to which I would seek the origin of this lack that could probably enlighten me and for which psychology or other means would surely be useful. But I simply started to love myself with little attentions, the way you act towards someone you love, with gifts, positive and encouraging words, primacy over other lower-ranked things, and mostly with time. Where my loneliness in the restaurants or in spas could pass for a sad relational situation — although I was in a relationship, it was actually all about a beautiful reawakening love story between me and myself. As this autarkic idyll was going by, I was able to discover a lot about myself and, above all, to finally erase this frustration of a life drifting away because left negligently at the mercy of a flying time.
In fact what I have had the chance to discover in Sabbath, was that by relying on God I could decide to say “BREAK” to time, to the unstoppable train of the week, even if only one day out of seven. But the limit to this power was that if I contented myself with that, I was just left with some mini-holidays scattered over each of my weeks and still with the same observation, the same helplessness for the six other days onwards. With truth I had won a victory on reality, I had conquered one day. But with love, with her appeal, my friend helped me to become aware of the fact I deserved something more than that, something that God himself already wanted me to understand behind his Sabbath and all the reference to love in his word.
Learning to love myself, accepting to love myself, I could finally look at time and tell him, first, that at defined moments I had the power to interrupt his frustrating grip thanks to God’s omnipotence and bond of trust, and mostly that I – and God also, loved me too much to continue to suffer his negative effects on my life. More than a battle for a simple day of sacred rest, I had won a war for my entire life.
I will ruin the happy ending a bit, but I want to be honest. I still have a long way to go, whether in terms of time management, or in terms of love life and self-love/love-for-others balance. But what I am sure of, is that with truth and love that God gives me to read in his word and to experience day after day, as the words of the Apostle Paul put it rightly, I am able today to redeem time and one day, hopefully, to love my wife as my own body because he who loves his own wife loves himself.