As 2022 draws to a close I see an omnipresent message across all social media channels — “good riddance to a bad year!”

Considering all of the worldly things that have gone “my way” this year, new job in an industry I am stoked about, healthy and (mostly) happy baby, moving to a nicer neighborhood, etc. I cannot maintain my seriousness while saying that “you should appreciate 2022 because I had a good 2022”.

I can say that at the end of 2021 I was wrecked. My wife and I had bought our first house in the small town of Flagstaff in rural, northern, alpine Arizona. Here are a few of worldly things that went wrong for me that year:

  • Spent most of the early summer trying to stay inside, windows closed, with no AC due to the massive forest fires
  • Spent most of the late summer stacking sandbags, knee deep in water from the consistent floods that threatened to destroy our home
  • Had the small startup job I loved turn into something stale and bureaucratic when “middle management” was brought in
  • The job I got at Shopify turned out to be soul crushing, more bureaucratic, and extremely pushy and ostracizing with leftist identity politics.
  • Had and loved a new puppy for about a week before it slowly died of Parvovirus at the vet hospital.
  • Spent Christmas sickly and weak recovering from COVID and without proper food in the house or the possibility of obtaining any. I’ll truncate the list there…

By most accounts, mine included, it was a bad year. As I reflect on 2021 today from a warm, cozy cabin in Flagstaff (just visiting this time) I realize that 2021, the year on the treacherous and destitute mountain, was the best year of my life, I simply wasn’t strong enough to understand it that way at the conclusion of last year.

Mountains are viewed as places of spiritual growth in virtually every world religion. I wrongfully assumed that this must have to do with their closer proximity to the heavens. This is not so.

The mountains deprive you of the comforts of the world. Their climate is mercurial, swinging from single digit temps with treacherous wind to placid 40 degree afternoons over the span of hours. Weather patterns are equally so, a sunny day can turn into an unrelenting monsoon in minutes (note: a monsoon is not simply a rain shower, if you have never experienced a monsoon you have no idea how hard and fast it can rain. During the worst one in our house, we had to shout over the noise to communicate.)

Mountains are backwards in time. The mall in Flagstaff looks like malls I remember from my 90s childhood, untouched by current trends and replete with the same old stores I remember. Nobody worries about “emissions” here. The internet just goes out sometimes, a repair person might not be out for a full week. If you need a new hot water heater, someone will have to drive up from Phoenix area and you’ll need to pay extra for this.

Mountains are poverse in every domain. The law is not enforced much because not a lot of serious crimes happen. The “broken window” effect is the norm, little pride is taken in the appearance of homes. Alcoholism is rampant. Rates of depression and suicide are much higher at altitude. This general “vibe” will bring you down even if you think yourself to be immune to it.

After reading texts by Orthodox writers I now understand why the mountain is a spiritual place. The mountain takes away the world by force. Mountains are inconvenient places to build infrastructure — going uphill with resources is time consuming and an engineering challenge. The mountain deprives its tenants of worldly things. There is no convenience. The services you take for granted at sea level aren’t available, if they are you’ll have to wait for them. This restriction of everything worldly, even oxygen itself, will break you of your dependence on the world. When you survive this, you will see that the world is insignificant, that true meaning in life comes not from “happiness” but from going beyond the world.

“Everything in this life passes away — only God remains, only He is worth struggling towards. We have a choice: to follow the way of this world, of the society that surrounds us, and thereby find ourselves outside of God; or to choose the way of life, to choose God Who calls us and for Whom our heart is searching.” - Fr. Seraphim Rose

Maybe you spent 2022 on a metaphorical “mountain”. Don’t be so quick to dismiss your experience as simply “bad”. Observe, investigate. Did the things of the world not go your way? Perhaps those things aren’t the most important to be focusing on.

The experiences I had in 2021 led me to stop pridefully seeking heterodox Catholic or Protestant churches with interpretations that meshed well with my own. 2021 taught me that I cannot affect God’s will for me or for the world. I was humbled by God. I attended my first Orthodox Divine Liturgy in the spring of 2022. From the time I stepped into the church, heard the chanting, and smelled the incense, I felt a sense of familiarity, like I was at home. Now writing this at the end of 2022 I am in the process of properly converting to Orthodoxy.

Maybe this is not your path. Keep the lesson though — the years on the mountain break us. We should be grateful for this breaking. I know many who live a comfortable life, through financial help from parents, through knowing nothing other than life in the “land of the lotus-eaters”/SoCal, through good fortune by chance, through sexual attractiveness, through never trying something stupidly ambitious enough to be called crazy, through embracing nihilism, through never living far away from their childhood home... They will likely never develop spiritually because they will never need to go beyond the world. Your years on the mountain are a gift. They will require you to transcend the things of the world. It will not be an option. That journey is for the broken, not the coddled.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their's is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for their's is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” - ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭3‬-‭11‬

May God bless you and have mercy on you as you reflect on your 2022 with an open and humble mind.

Josh Simmons Flagstaff, AZ 12/31/2022

P.S. Even on this trip to Flagstaff there was hardship! My truck got stuck on one of the icy dirt roads to our cabin. The AirBnB hostess was kind enough to drive my wife, daughter, and dog to the cabin, and me to O’Reilly to get chains. After putting the chains on to go get fast food to bring back to my family, literally everything else went wrong. I was extremely frustrated during the process (because my faith is weak) but paused at various points to pray, to turn to God with my frustration. This didn’t result in my situation being immediately remedied by Divine Intervention but it did give me the opportunity to become more humble to God’s will for me. Once I got back to my family at the cabin with some lukewarm seed-oil-laden McDonald’s I realized the ordeal had been worth it.

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