The following is a story based on the life of Abba Anthony from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers that I have pondered for years:
Abba Anthony received a letter from Emperor Constantine to visit him in Constantinople. He wondered if he should go and asked Abba Paul who said, “If you go, you will be called Anthony, but if you stay here (in the desert alone), you will be called Abba Anthony.”
What makes this story so important is that it speaks to the inner anchor of a life rooted in the love of God. We assume our overactive spirituality is normal. It is not. In fact, our tendency to seize more and more opportunities for God has destroyed many a good leader.
Innumerable demands and distractions confront every one of us. Doors of new opportunities swing open before us – to speak, to strategize for further expansion, to intervene in ministry problems, etc.
Two key insights have served me over the years to resist the pull to “travel to Constantinople” too often.
First, I remind myself over and over to the wisdom of W.H. Auden, poet and follower of Christ:
“To achieve anything today, an artist has to develop a conscious strictness in respect of time which in former ages might have seemed neurotic and selfish, for he must never forget that he is living in a state of siege.
Secondly, I pay attention to God coming to me through consolations (those feelings that connect me more deeply with Him, filling me with life and energy) and desolations (those feelings that disconnect me from myself and Jesus). I watch carefully for when my doing for God goes beyond my being with Him, when my inner life with Jesus shrinks.
Why? I know that if I respond to God’s voice to remain “in the desert” with Him, possibly – over a period of many years – it might result in my maturing into a person who can serve our generation like Abba Anthony did in his day.
May God help each of us.