Category Archives: Contentment

Worthiness

No one is worth more than you.

If someone is better than you at something,

Or has discovered a better path,

Understands something more clearly,

Has been given better opportunities,

Is more privileged,

Is more virtuous,

Is more spiritual,

Is more intelligent,

Is funnier,

Is more anything,

No one is worth more than you.

So, treat yourself as valuable and worthy.

Do your best.

Seek the best path.

Seek better understanding.

Seek better opportunities.

Recognize your privileges.

Strive to be more virtuous.

Grow spiritually.

Use your intelligence and reason.

Improve your sense of humor.

And remember that you are not worth more than anyone else.

Facebook And The Refrigerator

Yesterday I was on a men’s retreat at my parish.  During lunch break one of the guys was looking at his phone and scrolling away.  I asked him if he was looking at Facebook.  “Yeah,” he said, “just killing some time.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said, “Facebook is kind of like standing in front of the refrigerator.  You open it up and scan through it to see if anything looks good.”  I laughed in agreement.

His comment reminded me of a talk I once heard from a priest who was teaching a class on Catholicism.  The priest was introducing the idea that all of us have a built in longing for God, but we seek things other than God to appease that longing.  He quoted St. Augustine as saying that “our hearts are restless, oh God, until they rest in you.”  Then, he shared his own experience of something that is familiar to most of us.  It is the tendency to open the refrigerator door and stand there looking for something, even when we’re not really hungry.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “Every man who ever knocked on the door of a brothel was looking for God, but he just didn’t realize it.”  Whether it is the brothel door, the refrigerator door, the pantry door, the log in page of Facebook or any number of endeavors, we all look for something besides God to appease our longing for God.  Actually, it’s not something but someone we are seeking.  It is a longing that can only be satisfied by a relationship with God, for only God can provide the pure, unconditional love that we crave.  If we seek that relationship in anything or anyone other than God, we will eventually find ourselves unfulfilled, frustrated or disappointed.  We may even find ourselves addicted, constantly returning to that which can never fully satisfy, and that which ultimately leaves us empty and restless.

Close the refrigerator door.  You’re letting all the cold air out.

A Therapist’s Question

The question that is famously associated with therapists is, “How does that make you feel?”  There is a time and a place for that question (or a variant of it), but answering it is certainly not all there is to therapy.  There are many questions to be asked and processed.  One question that seems to probe the heart of the matter quite often is, “What are you afraid of?” or “What are you afraid will happen then?”

So many people are driven by fear.  I don’t mean the healthy kind of fear that causes one to avoid genuine danger, but a nagging sense of emptiness or discontentment (I am not necessarily discussing anxiety disorders here).  It is a fear described by Tillich as a fear of “non-being,” although few people draw that conclusion as they move through their fearful lives.  People generally attempt to ease the fear by means of acquiring material goods, pleasures, or by investing in relationships.  Since people, pleasures and things are imperfect and finite, they will eventually disappoint, deteriorate or disappear.  Therefore, the fear remains below the surface.  It is Thoreau’s life of “quiet desperation.”

I have seen many couples, for example, that found in each other what they initially perceived to be the antidote to their fear of non-being.  Yet, they failed to resolve that fear in each other.  They discovered that it is not possible for one person to be “everything” despite what the lyrics of romantic songs may suggest.  They have somehow failed to “complete” each other and now they sit before me, their therapist, wondering what is wrong with their relationship.  Generally, each partner wants me to change the other partner into someone that will ease their underlying fears and make them feel whole.

One of the most repeated phrases in Scripture is, “Fear not,” or, “Do not be afraid.”  Having created us, God understands us to the core.  God also knows that our fear of non-being cannot be entirely eased by people, pleasures or things.  Only God can fill that void.  We are designed that way.  Hence, people of all places and times have turned to some form of religious expression.  As St. Augustine said, “We are restless until we rest in You, oh Lord.”  The admonition to “fear not” is a constant reminder to be adequately unattached to people, places and things, and to place our ultimate “OK-ness” in God alone.  Having placed our trust in God, we become free to fearlessly enjoy God’s gifts without desperately clinging to them as our source of being.  Relationships, pleasures, places and things take on new meaning.

The beauty of Christianity is not that it is one religion of many that seeks after God to resolve the fear of non-being.  The beauty is that through Christianity, God seeks after us.  God, knowing our fear, has revealed Himself to us as the antidote for fear.  We do not need to scratch and claw our way to the peace of God.  God has come down to us, embraced us, and told us to rest in Him.  Jesus shows us that we can live lives of faith, not fear.  There is more to our existence than this short life.  Through Christ we can live abundant lives instead of quietly desperate lives.

The Church Of The Unsatisfied

God gave the Israelites manna in the desert.  Without that miraculous food, they would have starved to death.  It literally kept them alive.  But, human nature kicked in.  They grew tired of the manna and began to complain.  “We want more options.  We want more variety.”  Manna, no matter how miraculous, was no longer good enough.

Jesus took a few fish and some loaves of bread and miraculously fed thousands of hungry people.  They followed him around wanting even more.  “God gave our ancestors manna in the desert.  What sign can you give us?  What can you do?”  They had just been miraculously fed, but they wanted more.  The miracle of the fish and loaves wasn’t good enough for them.

Jesus told them He would provide the true food and true drink of His flesh and blood to sustain their eternal life.  They lacked understanding.  Many then turned away from Him, and the betrayal of Judas took root at this point.  For many of Christ’s disciples, His flesh and blood were not good enough.  They wanted more.  At the Last Supper, Jesus pointed out Judas as the betrayer, and showed the apostles the miracle of the Eucharist.  He had told them earlier that they would need to eat His flesh and blood, and now He showed them how to do it in a miraculous manner.

Manna was not good enough for the Israelites.  The miracle of the fish and the loaves was not good enough for the multitudes following Jesus around.  His flesh and blood were not good enough for many of His disciples.  Human nature has not changed much.  His flesh and blood are still not good enough for many Christians today.  They want more.  More programs, more coffee, more doughnuts, more music, more excitement, more Bible studies, more interesting preaching, more miracles, etc.

What more can Jesus give than His very flesh and blood poured out and crucified for our forgiveness and salvation?  What is more miraculous than the God of the universe humbling Himself in the form of bread and wine in order to spiritually and physically unite with His own, spiritual/physical creations?  Add the other six sacraments and we not only have life, but life more abundantly.  Why do we grumble?  Don’t we have enough?  We don’t even deserve what we do have.  Do we really believe?  God help our unbelief.

Want A Happy Marriage? Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!

For the most part, people get married these days because they believe it will make them happy, and that’s ok.  Marriage is supposed to be a joyful relationship.  But, a lot of folks discount a very important piece of marriage that makes it a joyful experience.  They underestimate, or completely ignore, the formative aspect of marriage.  That is, they expect to settle into a relationship where they are loved and coddled and not expected to make any changes.  Growth cannot take place without change.  Change is not always easy or fun.  People generally want their marriages to be fun and easy, not challenging or something to work at.

When working with couples, I sometimes use a vegetable garden analogy.  I ask the couple to imagine that they decided to start a big vegetable garden in order to enjoy fresh veggies that they both like.  The garden will be of a size that requires the work of two people.  Then I have them list all the things that would be required to keep the garden healthy.  They will need to provide water, sunlight, and fertilizer.  The ground must be tilled (hoe, hoe, hoe!).  Weeds, insects and animals will need to be kept at bay.  The vegetables will need to be harvested, cleaned and prepared before being enjoyed.  In other words, it takes a lot of consistent work to reap the benefits that are so pleasurable.  One person cannot do it alone without part of the garden withering.  Want a great garden?  Expect lots of work from both of you!

So, marriage takes work.  We hear that often, but neglect to embrace it.  We don’t want to work, we want to be loved and coddled.  This is where the formative part comes in.  Work builds character.  Individuals with character have a better chance of a happy marriage.  There are lots of unhappy marriages because people lack character.  They want to eat the vegetables, but they don’t want to work in the garden.  They have not discovered their innate love of work and character-building.  Humans are not naturally opposed to work when it yields a reasonable reward.  Work is a healthy, fulfilling aspect of personhood.

We do not usually hear someone say, “I can’t wait to get married so that I can learn to love the work involved and build my character!”  No, people want the romance and the sex, but not the work.  They want the unconditional love, but they don’t want to love unconditionally.  They want their spouses to sacrifice for them, but they don’t want to live sacrificially.  They want respect, but they aren’t respectful.  They look at marriage with a “what’s-in-it-for-me” attitude instead of asking, “What’s best for this marriage God has given us?”  They scrutinize or covet other marriages instead of working in their own “garden.”

To “grow old together” implies that some growth will take place.  Growth means change and change can be difficult.  “For better or for worse” is not just a romantic notion.  It means that you are choosing to enter a relationship that may challenge you in ways you never could have imagined.  These challenges may be emotional, spiritual or physical.  You will need to mature and grow as an individual.  You will need to be accountable to your spouse and hold your spouse accountable when it comes to nurturing the marriage.  You will need to bend your will to God, the institutor of marriage (as in Ephesians chapter 5).  You will need to forgive and ask for forgiveness.  You must swallow your pride and seek genuine, godly humility without degrading yourself.  You must not try to thwart God’s total design for marriage, including the procreative aspect.

The better you become as a person, the better your marriage will be.  Focus on the changes you need to make, not things your partner needs to improve.  God is the potter, and we are the clay.  Let it be!  God will surely use your spouse to mold you.  Some of it will be fun, and some of it might be grueling.  All of it will find an ultimate reward in this life or the next.  Marriage is a vocation.  The goal is for spouses to help each other and their children on the road to sainthood.  Faith, hope and love; the greatest is love (a godly, sacrificial charity), and that is where true happiness abides, for God is love.

The Little Rear View Mirror

I heard an analogy today that left an impression on me.  It launched a train of thought with many tracks.  “Your car has a big windshield, but a small rear view mirror.  That’s because you’re supposed to spend most of your time looking forward, and just a little time looking back.”  Maybe I’ve heard that before, but this time it stuck.  There are lots of ways to apply that analogy, but I’ll just focus on a few that came to mind.

Some people have lives that are wrecked because they spend too much time living in the past.  Maybe they enjoyed their past so much that they feel cheated or apathetic about the present or the future.  Perhaps they were deeply hurt in the past and their inability to forgive prevents them from enjoying life now.  Then there are people who live in the past because it is their familiar comfort zone.  They are afraid to grow.  Looking out the windshield is too scary, too intimidating.

Some Christians read the Bible and study Church teachings without really allowing what has been revealed in the past to impact their present and their future in a meaningful way.  It’s a bit like devouring books on carpentry without ever intending to build anything.  They like the reading and the studying, but the real-life application escapes them.  They are looking in the rear view mirror at revelation and doctrine, but failing to see how it applies to the road they are on.  They know all about Jesus, but they are not following him.  They are not seeing life and people through the eyes of Christ.

Some people use the rear view mirror primarily as a vanity mirror.  They are more focused on self than on the road or others around them.  When they finally do look out the windshield, it is out of concern for their own safety rather than everyone’s safety.  They care more about self than others, even others in the car with them.

When the rear view mirror becomes larger than the windshield, watch out.  Certainly there are times to embrace the memories of the past and reminisce with joy and gratitude.  There are times to examine the past for the purpose of healing and growth.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the past or learning from the past.  That’s why we write things down and take photos and videos.  In order to really live abundantly, however, we can’t live in the past.  Nor can we live in the future.  We must have our eyes forward and our hands on the wheels of our vehicles.  Christ is in the pace car.  Follow him.  Where he will lead you is better than anything you’ll see in your rear view mirror.

Growing Younger

When I was young
It seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees
Well they’d be singing so happily
Joyfully, playfully watching me

But then they send me away
To teach me how to be sensible
Logical, responsible, practical
And then they showed me a world
Where I could be so dependable
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

I can identify with these lyrics of The Logical Song by Supertramp.  I’ve always tried to retain a sense of awe and wonder about life and avoid a cynical attitude.  It’s hard to do sometimes.  The responsibilities of adulthood can become rather tedious and frustrating to the youthful boy inside me.  I’ll admit that I give in to my melancholy side on occasion, until I realize I’m just pouting.  Then I look for something wonderful and awe inspiring to pull me out of my funk.

When I was a boy, it was easier to find the wonder in life.  I suppose that’s just the state of innocence.  Some of my boyhood fascinations have lost their luster.  I’ve seen “the man behind the curtain.”  The glitter has rubbed off.  Other fascinations have endured.  For example, I can still stare at the moon with awe and wonder, or look at a space photo of the Earth and try to comprehend all the people that ever lived on it.  I can look at my own children and become lost in how amazing they are.  I also find more awe and wonder in my relationship with God as I grow older.

Recently, I have gained a greater appreciation for the union of the material and the spiritual.  There are many Christians that adopt a sort of dualism into their faith that can become rather cynical.  Life becomes all about getting out of this “bad” material world and into the next “good” spiritual world.  But that’s not really the goal of a Christian.  The goal is to be transformed in body and in soul so that we can live in the world as it is and as it will be.  In the resurrection we will get new bodies.  We will not be disembodied “ghosts.”  We will not be pure spirits like the angels.  We will continue to be the unique bridge between pure spirit and pure material, a hybrid of sorts (1Cor 15:51).  We will still be human, just changed humans.  There will be a new Earth for us to stand on.  That which is material will not be completely going away, but it will be renewed (Rom 8:22-23).

These days I look upon the future new Earth and my future new body with childlike awe and wonder.  It is a playground for the imagination that I will never grow out of.  In fact, the older I get, the more fascinating it becomes.  The great thing is that it is not just a fantasy I have to eventually wake up from, like a book or a movie, but the reality of life.  In fact, it is the essence and purpose of life.  It’s not that this present world no longer holds my interest.  It’s just that I have realized that the boy I used to be has not been shelved in a closet of memories.  My boyhood fascination with life was just an appetizer for the ultimate experience of living.  I will always and forever be a child of God.  I’m growing younger.

(Partly inspired by “The Little Way” of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower)