Growing up, I often heard senior family members encourage less experienced youth to “Stop, and take time to smell the roses.” Teachers would repeat the expression to motivate pupils to look beyond their immediate focus, which ultimately would bring new insights. Parents and counselors used it to inspire us to reserve time to experience the fullness of life. They knew that daily pressing needs can rob us of the true joys that God intended and wants us to enjoy. I have never forgotten this message. Indeed, the sweetness of life, the joie de vivre, can be obliterated when we fail to slow down and look around. In our spiritual lives, I liken the expression to the Scriptural verse, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Simply put, our lives are not fulfilled by us alone. Unless we pause and remind ourselves to stop and seek the will of the Source of our life, we may come to rely on our personal judgment, our earthly priorities, and in so doing, lose sight of God’s Garden. “[Jesus] said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19)
Taking vacation and spending time with family is an opportunity to “Stop, and take time to smell the roses”, to reconnect with family and to check in with God in a less harried way. Notice I observed that family vacations “are an opportunity”. In our zeal to visit and check off our various tourist destinations and attractions, do we allot personal time to slow down and go rogue… that is, let go of our busy itinerary by relaxing and letting God lead us to a special wonder or insight He created for us to find, enjoy, and know that He is with us always?
Presbytera Marinda and I look forward to sharing together the joy of “stopping, and taking time to smell the roses.” Several years ago, we were eager to enjoy an early lobster dinner on a small island off the coast of Maine. While driving on a rural two-lane highway, we drove over a small bridge. We quickly realized that unless we stopped, we would miss the serene beauty so prevalent in this heavily wooded, mountainous, and sparsely-populated state.
In the image above, it is clear that there is a barely noticeable bridge over a body of water. Our focus, however, was staying on the narrow road and not getting lost. Suddenly, we spotted a large U.S. Flag draped from the center of a small footbridge. It was the Fourth of July, and our pride for our country and desire to take in its beauty motivated us to stop for a keepsake photo. Little did we realize what other roses we would smell by stopping unexpectedly. Without a doubt, our last minute decision proved to be “more than meets the eye”; it afforded us with blessings we otherwise would have neither known or experienced.
After finding a parking space, we walked towards the gentle creek amidst a green forest with a typical Maine workshop next to a picturesque bridge. Birds singing, the sun glistening amidst the leaves just before sunset, we were overtaken with this natural setting that we likened as a living postcard. We instantly received a beautiful gift offered at no charge… except the time and effort to explore something we stumbled upon. We offered praise and thanks to God for creating the natural beauty and the unselfish townspeople who maintained this serene and verdant setting for all to enjoy. In essence, this quiet encounter gave us an opportunity to acknowledge that God was with us… “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Having slowed down, we now discovered more natural wonders were waiting for us. Walking to the opposite side of the bridge, we were beckoned to a quiet harbor, mountains, trees, all amidst an endless blue sky. This vista reinforced our faith that God created the earth and gave His children dominion to serve in His behalf; to preserve His creation and share it with all. Certainly, the locals practiced God’s will and witnessed the verse, “I am your servant; give me understanding, so that I may know Your decrees.” (Psalm 119:125) These words remind us that God is the source of true clarity and direction. Through faith and obedience, we fulfill our potential to serve Him. In so doing, we influence and enhance not only our own life; we help God fulfill the potential of hope and faith others will come to know from our good works. “… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Presbytera Marinda soon found a bench by a small dam/waterfall to call family and share about our discovery while I photographed the beauty of this special find. Four years later, I am glad I did. Flying from Atlanta to mid-coast Maine this past Monday, I am writing this reflection to frame my mindset that this coming week is a time to “stop and smell the roses.” Forty years ago, God brought Marinda and I together and three years later we married. What better way to observe this milestone than to commit time to one another and renew ourselves in a place of natural beauty and less crowded surroundings. We know we are blessed to be afforded this opportunity. We thank our Bishop, our co-workers, and our family and friends for supporting this journey. In our household, everywhere we have lived, we have resolved to serve God and our children, grandchildren, friends, strangers, and those He puts in our path. This coming week, we decided to celebrate our special anniversary with the prayer that insights we gain will renew and enhance our strengths, help us overcome our weaknesses, and provide opportunities to ward off threats and rely on God as our family’s anchor.
This week, Marinda and I look forward to personal time with each other and with God. Recalling the words of the Cherubic Hymn from the Divine Liturgy, we hope to “set aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all” by visiting new places and seeking to make friends from among those whose wisdom and guidance will bring joy and newly-learned experiences that we can share with family and parishioners. The only plans we have made are for lodging and transportation. Nothing else has been scheduled. We are free to “smell the roses!”
Each day we will pray together and learn how others’ experiences and wisdom can reflect God’s goodness. In the photo above from our unexpected stop to view a flag draped from a bridge, I was captivated by the open accessibility of the home on a body of water open to the public. Its reflection in the water intensified its presence and called to mind there are many in our midst that can guide and inspire us if we seek them out. Open schedules and empty “to do lists” are infrequent for most of us. Taking a few days to free ourselves of our routines, in favor of seeking out life’s “roses/flowers” can yield us deeper insights. This week, as we pray for God’s will in our lives beyond this week, we trust He will offer us both opportunities and challenges as we walk with Him.
Like the other photos I shared with this reflection, every day in life there is “more than meets the eye.” Just like the lily pads I discovered that July 4th several years ago, by taking time to be still and hear God’s voice, perhaps we will find new resting and tranquil places God has created to offer us peace and joy. Fr. Maximos summed it up well in the book, The Inner River: “When you reach a state of harmony within yourself and become friends with yourself, then, simultaneously, your environment, Heaven and Earth, will become your friends. For such a person there are no enemies, no ‘impure’ people. Everything is pure to those who are pure.”
I’m looking forward to my coming adventure with Presbytera Marinda. Together, we have traveled for 40 years, and taking time to “stop, and smell the roses” seems like a worthy calling… we depend on God, each other, and you to guide and help us throughout our lives. For my next Sunday Lunch, I hope to share some insights that we gained through faith and love for God, our neighbors, and each other this week.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in Me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
[Photos by Fr. George Tsahakis]