Lent with the Desert Fathers: Is it Yours?

A Word From the Desert

“The same Abba Agathon was walking with his disciples. One of them, finding a small green pea on the road, said to the old man, ‘Father, may I take it?’ The old man, looking at him with astonishment, said, ‘Was it you who put it there?’ ‘No,’ replied the brother. ‘How then,’ continued the old man, ‘can you take up something which you did not put down?’”1


Erbsen123 Peas
“Erbsen123” by Deenee (source)

So what’s wrong with a “finders keepers” approach to life? After all it’s only a pea. For Abba Agathon it’s not just a pea. He sees a deeper issue and is asking a more profound question. “Is it yours to pick up?”

This week’s saying can be seen as a corollary to last week’s. Last week we reflected on letting go and detaching from our possessions. This week’s saying asks us to consider whether what we pick up and take on is really ours to pick up and take on. On the roads of our lives we will each find many small green peas. Abba Agathon invites us to be discerning and ask ourselves, “Is that pea mine to pick up?”


For Consideration and Practice

As Abba Agathon teaches, not every pea on the road is ours to pick up, but some are. Our practice then is to discern which is our pea and which is not. As with all the desert sayings we must begin with our own lives and experiences.

  • Look at your calendar, commitments, and to do lists. Do you find any green peas? The things you find may all be good things, important things, but are they all yours to do? If not, why did you say yes? What did you expect or hope that green pea would do for or give you?
  • Have you ever become involved in a conflict that didn’t really involve you? Do you carry another’s burdens and worries as your own? Have you ever tried to fix another’s life and solve their problems? This is not about being uninvolved with or unconcerned about our neighbors and their needs but about a detachment that allows us to be truly present. There is often a fine line between being responsible to another person or situation and becoming responsible for that person or situation.
  • Reflect on the green peas you have picked up. What was the attraction? What were you looking for? Why did you pick them up? What do they teach you or say about your life? Begin to recognize the green peas you have picked up in the past and why you did. The next time you find a green pea on your life’s road ask yourself, “Was it I who put it there? Is it mine to pick up and carry?”


O God of wisdom and knowing, you formed your servant, Abba Agathon, to be a counselor and teacher of others. By your grace may his words guide us on the road of life that we may walk with discerning minds to know what is and is not ours to pick up, that we may be free of distractions and unnecessary burdens, and that our journey may take us to that heavenly country where with your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Other Posts in this Series

February 22 – A Series on Fasting and Simplicity
February 27 – How Should One Fast?
March 6 – Detachment and Simplicity
March 13 – Is It Yours?
March 20 – Detaching From Another’s Scorn or Praise
March 27 – Fasting From Words


1. Agathon 11 in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 22.


  1. This message about the picking up the pea is just what I needed to hear today, for myself and for the young people I visit with at our local Juvenile Detention Centers. Many of these young people carry around so much pain and shame from their family situations. They do not need to be carrying this around with them. They need to put it down and leave it where it belongs. Thank you and God Be With You. ~ Cindy


  2. This is an important distinction. I’ve been trained in distinguishing where I’m being attached vs where I’m being committed, particularly in relation to my relationships with others, and I’m continually learning. One thing I’ve learnt is that when I’m being attached, there’s always something in it for me and that’s what driving it. It may not be apparent, and it’s always there nevertheless, some benefit, some payoff I hope to gain. When I’m being committed, on the other hand, “I” or “me” is not there.


    1. The attachment – commitment distinction is helpful. I suspect attachments are often unconscious, arising from some sense of need, emptiness, or pain. Commitment, it seems to me, is a choice, conscious, giving rather than taking, and comes more from a place of abundance.

      Peace be with you,


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