Reflection on a Saying of a Desert Christian: Abba Poimen

“An inexperienced monk went in a distressed state to Abba Poimen: “I fell into great fault, Father,” he confessed, “and I have tried for at least three years to repent.”

“That is a long time,” the holy one told him.

“Are three months enough, then?”

“That, too, is a long time,” answered the holy one. “I assure you that, if you sincerely repent and make a firm decision never to commit the same error, in three days you are received by God’s goodness.”

Does this seem a little harsh to you?  Here is this earnest, if inexperienced monk confessing to Abba Poimen whose response probably felt like a slap in the face.  Well, not one has ever claimed that the Desert Christians were ever anything but blunt.

Abba Poimen is basically telling the monk to quit trying and just do the thing.  Which reminded me of an iconic figure of American cinema, Yoda the Jedi, who told Luke Skywalker, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

We tend to make fun of Yoda, what with his reversed sentence structure, ears, and general non-human appearance. But there is something important in these words.  I’ve often thought of them over the years. I believe they also apply to today’s Saying.

“Trying” is a cop out.  “Trying” implies a lack of commitment, a lack of dedication. “Trying” is really saying “I won’t.” “Trying” is lying to ourselves and others.

Yeah, I suppose that feels harsh.  It feels harsh to me and I wrote it.  But I am convinced it is true.  If I tell myself or another that I will try to do something, then I need to either make room in my life for it or admit that I have no intention of following through. My life is littered with things I “tried” to do but failed to do because I failed to commit.


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