Tag Archives: Contentment

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.

For The Husbands

I’ve had a request for some ideas for husbands in terms of marriage and spiritual leadership.  I decided to create a list of ten things (in no particular order) that regularly come up in counseling sessions, daily life and in spiritual conversations.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  I personally have a lot of work to do.  We all do.  The point is to know what needs work and then work on it.  Keep in mind that doing these things can be fun.  Just because it takes some effort doesn’t mean it has to be drudgery.  It all depends on your attitude.  The rewards are well worth it.  So, here you go husbands.  I hope you find something useful here.

1)      Mutual submission:

A lot is said about wives submitting to husbands.  Yet, husbands are also called to submission.  Jesus Christ is the model.  He is the Bridegroom.  How does the Bridegroom behave towards his Bride, the Church?  He does not consider his position as God (the ultimate leader) as something to be grasped at, but humbles himself as a slave.*  Are you that way towards your bride, or are you constantly trying to dominate and overrule her choices and opinions?  Jesus submitted to the point of death for his Bride.  “Husbands, love your wives, as Jesus Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it.”*  Would you die for your bride?  Are you willing to let even a small part of you “die” so that she can have her way?  Do you sacrifice with joy or do you allow resentment to build in your heart?

2)      Non-sexual touch and affection:

If your wife thinks you want sex every time you touch her, that’s a problem.  She needs hugs, kisses, hand-holding and physical closeness that has no “sexual strings” attached.  Many men regard women as sexual objects to be used for their own pleasure.  Not good.  Your wife is a person, a human being, a child of God, not a blow-up doll.  Treat her accordingly.  Jesus treated women with respect.  Follow his lead.  Find out what she likes.  It won’t do much good to hold her hand if she doesn’t like hand-holding.  When you know what she likes, you know her.  Then you can deliver the affection, with no expectations of having sex.

3)      Kind, respectful speech and humor:

No name-calling, even when you are angry and frustrated.  No name-calling.  No curse words.  Do not swear at your wife or your children.  Speak to them as Jesus would speak to the Church, with love.  Don’t say hurtful things to your wife and then try to cover it up with, “I was only kidding around.”  Don’t say things you will wish you could retract.  Oh, and did I say, “No name-calling?”  Bridle your tongue.*

4)      Eye contact and undivided attention:

When your wife speaks, listen, even if you think it is not relevant to you.  If you are unable to listen for some valid reason, tell her so.  Tell her you want to hear about it, and that you will listen as soon as you get a chance.  Then, keep that promise.  Also, give her eye contact.  Mute the TV, pause the game, whatever you have to do to look her in the eye and really listen.  If you forget what she said a few minutes ago, you probably weren’t really listening.  Develop your listening skills if you want to be a good husband.

5)      Conversation:

Being a good listener is part of being a good conversationalist.  Yeah, I know, men are all about “report” (just give me the facts) and women are all about “rapport” (let’s be in synch with each other mentally and emotionally).  So, conversation means different things to men and women.  That’s why men generally have shorter phone calls than women (get the gist of things and hang up).  Nevertheless, men, try to develop your rapport with your wife.  Listen and respond with more than a grunt.  Be happy with her when she’s happy.  Be sad with her when she’s sad.  Show some empathy.  Tune in.

6)      Follow through on promises, big and small:

Be faithful to your wedding vows.  That’s a big one.  Take out the trash when you say, “Ok, I’ll take it out.”  That’s a small one.  A promise is a promise.  We can’t trust someone in big things if we can’t trust him in small things.*  By the way, fidelity also means getting rid of and avoiding pornography in your life, your home, your computer, your phone, etc.  We are all called to purity and chastity within our vocations whether we are married or single.  You chose one, special woman out of millions.  Love her and her alone.  Forsake all others, even the paper or cyber ones.  As the Scripture says, “Rejoice with the wife of your youth.  Let her breasts satisfy you at all times.”*  And, yes, guys, that means the Victoria’s Secret catalog needs to go, too.

7)      Acts of service:

Find out what means “love” to her.  Do it.  Say it.  Mean it.  If it’s washing her car, wash it.  If it’s flowers, get them.  If it’s taking the kids away so she can rest, take them.  Get the picture?

8)      Spiritual initiative:

“Man up” and be a holy, spiritual Christian man.  Jesus chose twelve, ordinary, “unlearned”* men to be his apostles.  Quit making the ladies and the clergy do all the “spiritual work.”  The clergy is only there to prepare us, the laity, to do the real work.  That means go to church, pray with your family, read and study your Bible and your Catechism, know your faith, share your faith and be prepared to defend it against secularism, relativism, hedonism and any other “ism” that distorts truth.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”*  That ought to make a guy feel like wielding the sword of the Spirit to defend his family from the powers of darkness.  Look at it this way: if you heard someone breaking into your home, would you send your wife to deal with it while you stayed in bed?

9)      If you have children, be active and engaged with them:

You are a role model, whether you want to be or not.  You are either a good one or a bad one.  Be a good one.  Love your children with your time, your attention, and your presence.  It isn’t enough to be a financial provider.  They need their dad, not just dad’s money.  It also shows that the sex you have with your wife means more to you than lust or physical pleasure.  It means that you and your wife share in God’s creative power together and God blessed that union by creating new human beings.  If you want to know why sex is sacred and not to be used, abused or taken for granted, spend time with your children and look deeply into their eyes.  Yep, that’s why God made sex.

10)  Ask your wife what she needs/wants/likes:

There is no better expert on how to treat your wife than…your wife.  No two people are the same.  No two wives are the same.  Talk to your wife.  Ask her how you are doing as a husband.  Ask her where you can improve, and then, actually work on it.  You and your wife decided to create something that never existed before; your marriage.  Your marriage is not there to serve you.  You are there to serve your marriage and your spouse.  Find out what you need to do better and what you are already doing well, for the sake of your marriage.  With a humble heart, ask God to help you.

 

*I’ll let you look up these Scriptures on your own.  Good way to show some initiative, men!

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)