Stress

An Unexpected Journey- How September 21st, 2017 Became the New Start to my Spiritual Path

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Over the past few weeks, life has been throwing stress-filled curveballs at me. Reeling from anxiety, anger, and frustration, I recently went to the spiritual medicine box—Confession—to gain sacramental graces to help me grow in patience and perspective. I experienced a true transformation in my life this week in the days following my reconciliation with God, the Church, and my fellow man. September 21st, 2017 became a new launching point for my spiritual journey. Excited for this re-start on my path toward Christian holiness, I will provide a few reasons why this date holds a special place in my heart.

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1. Anniversary of the Publication of The Hobbit: Eighty years ago, on September 21st, 1937, The Hobbit—an essential item on any fantasy fan’s bookshelf—was published. Eight decades later the tale of J.R.R. Tolkien still instills wonder in its readers.

Regrettably, I did not explore Middle Earth until my mid-20s. Over the past five years, I have read The Hobbit twice and The Lord of the Rings trilogy once.

A true literary treasure is measured through its ability to stand the test of time. Nearly a century later, I would say that Tolkien’s work passes with flying colors. Characters within the story seem to speak directly to me. For instance, the dwarf Thorin tells Bilbo, “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How easy is it for us to lose memory of the importance things in life? I forget fairly quickly. Tolkien reminds me to look for the hidden joys in my life. Perhaps, an unexpected journey is in store for me starting September 21st, 2017.

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2. Happy Holiness Day: Along with the anniversary of The Hobbit, September 21st is the feast day of my patron saint—St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Before his “coming to God moment”, Matthew worked for the Roman equivalent of the IRS. Hatred of paying government taxes is an innate principle built into humanity. Palestine 30 A.D. was no different. What courage and faith it must have taken Matthew to leave his luxurious, high paying government job? Tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish people. They basically did the Roman government’s dirty work of extolling individuals for money. I always imaged how Matthew would fit in with Jesus’ motley crew of Apostles. Was he accepted right away? Did trust issues exist?

While such questions are purely speculative, but I find pondering the transition of Matthew from a hated tax collector to an evangelist helpful in my relationship with my patron saint. I too struggle to fit in at times, yet I am gifted with the ability to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ just like St. Matthew! September 21st is the beginning of my re-commitment to evangelize through my writing, family life, and volunteering at my parish. I hope to exhibit the same steadfast faith as Matthew did when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27).

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3. September of Sacraments: Together with my patron saint and favorite fantasy jubilees occurring on the same day, the month of September started as a transitional month for my family and I. My wife began a new job, our children started to get in the school routine, and changes galore occurred at work. Through the grace of God and ability in our hectic scheduling, and mostly due to my serious need for divine assistance I went to confession twice this month. During my first confession, the priests gave me this amazing penance—pray the Prayer of Humility. Humility is the virtue that stands in opposition to the vice of pride. Pride is what made the Devil fall from his celestial pedestal as God’s favored angel. Pride leads me to be an inferior version of myself. Let us briefly ask God for the gift of true and beautiful humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved… From the desire of being extolled … From the desire of being honored … From the desire of being praised … From the desire of being preferred to others… From the desire of being consulted … From the desire of being approved … From the fear of being humiliated … From the fear of being despised… From the fear of suffering rebukes … From the fear of being calumniated … From the fear of being forgotten … From the fear of being ridiculed … From the fear of being wronged … From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I … That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease … That others may be chosen and I set aside … That others may be praised and I unnoticed … That others may be preferred to me in everything… That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

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Unexpected journeys are difficult, but the joy attained through its travel is immeasurable. Jesus tells his disciples [and us], “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). God asks us each day is: will you follow me? Starting on September 21st, 2017, I said yes! I renewed my commitment to follow His lead. Will I continue on this path? I certainly hope so, only time will truly tell. I will close with the following exchange between the hobbit and wizard before the great journey:

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same

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3 Tips to Guarantee You Will Overcome Adversity

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According to Thomas Paine in The American Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Written almost 300 hundred years ago, the American philosopher words remain fresh and relevant to our age as they did back in the time of the American Revolution. Facing deluges of stress, busyness, and changes in the workplace, I experienced difficulty in tough times. Last week the stress drowned me and I let anxiety overwhelm me. Probably the best thing I did for myself [and my family] was to receive the Sacrament of Confession. Here I obtained the graces for a clean start, a theological re-booting of my system, and aid to face the adversity this week. Along with Divine assistance, I also had a counseling appointment where I received additional help to stay even-keeled as I boarded the “ship of life” and sailed out against the sea of stress. Below I discovered [actually re-discovered] three practical tips that guarantee you will overcome adversity.

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  1. Seek Help: As a perfectionist I often struggle to admit I need help. My drive to succeed and do the right thing is both a blessing and a curse. In the storm of adversity, sometimes I am not able to keep afloat by myself. Jesus Christ said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew  7:7). To ask for help means to submit yourself to the possibility that you may not have all the answers. Being uncertain about something or not a sign of weakness. Rather, seeking help demonstrates a powerful humility–a mighty weapon to wield in the face of adversity.

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2. Own Up to Failures:  Similar to the first point of asking for help and demonstrating humility, acknowledgment of my limitations provided another bulwark against adversity. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” His words carried real weight for me this week. Working for the banking industry involves balancing regulatory compliance with superb customer service to our clients in order to treat them with dignity and respect. To be honest, I feel like an actuarial acrobat most of the week. A situation arose where I placed more priority on company risk prevention then serving a customer impacted by Hurricane Irma. I felt guilty–even though I really did nothing morally culpable nor illegal. Still, I realized I could have provided our client a better experience. So, I took initiative to actively solve the issue by simply calling him back to inform him of the complete breakdown of disaster assistance our company provides. Almost immediately, I gained a strength to persevere with mettle despite encountering other stressful situations that day.

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  1. Learn, learn, learn: Albert Einstein once said, “A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”  Despite, being a professional physicist, the German genius gave us profound philosophical wisdom in this quote. Throughout my life I encountered people I consider to be “learner yearners”. In other words, people who commit themselves to life-long learning and study. The common thread among “learner yearners” is that they seem to deal with adversity in a calm and controlled manner. Adversity will always pester us and follow us in our earthly existence. The key is donning an educational attitude and seek opportunities to learn. Learning leads to perspective. Perspective leads to patience. Patience is the virtue that allows us to disable adversity’s assault.

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The great English prime minister Winston Churchill stated, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” More colloquially put, “With great power comes great responsibility,” attributed by Ben Parker [uncle of Peter Parker/Spiderman]. Facing turmoil and adversity head-on seems brings a sense of joy and peace. This seems counter-intuitive, but from my personal experiences so far that has been the case. A habit of seeking help, taking ownership of my failings, and continual learning leads to overcoming of adversity!

***”It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”***

Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans: Why Do I Even Take the Kids to Sunday Mass?

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Our car’s digital clock reads 9:27 A.M. I am thinking to myself, “Great, maybe we will be able to make it on time to Mass this week…finally!” [we only live 2 minutes away from our parish.]. After we pulling into a parking spot and turn off the ignition, my wife and I rush to get our three children into the church before the entrance hymn starts. Thankfully, we made it in time. I thought myself, “Please let us be able to make it through at least the first part of the Mass without me having to take any one out!”

My prayer was almost answered. Two minutes into the first reading, my 18 month old son, started to lose focus and wanted to escape the premises. The granola bar and sippy cup of water were not enough to appease him long enough for me to finish the firsting reading. I already had perspiration glinting on my temples and forehead from having to hold a squirming and twisting toddler. I gave up the battle. I left my oldest son in the pew by himself for a couple minutes until my wife came back—she had to take our daughter out for a bathroom break five minutes into the liturgy!

“What is the point, I thought. Should I even continue trying to bring the kids along? Sometime people stare at us as if we have an extraterrestrial being dancing behind them in the pew? My kids are insane!” I lamented to myself. Mass ended fairly decent, considering the crazy start, but I felt inspired to write about my inner struggles about balancing family life with my Catholic obligation for Sunday worship. Here are three reasons why I cannot stop bringing my children to Mass despite the enormous “inconvenience” or “stress” it seems to bring.

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1. Because I Experience Truth: Someone once asked my wife, “Why did you convert to Catholicism?” Her reply is probably the shortest apologetic statement in history, “Because it’s true!” The conviction and strength of faith of that level is something I have yet to achieve. I oftentimes feel myself providing caveats and further clarifications for why I am Catholic or why I continue to follow the faith. At the end of the day, I continue to go to weekly Mass on Sundays because the Apostles—the first friends and followers of Christ—started that tradition 2,000 years ago. Jesus informed the Twelve to celebrate the “breaking of the bread” weekly.

I need to persist in taking my children to Mass because Jesus is “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” and we receive the gift of the Eucharist! Truth is not always easy, but without truth I am nothing. Humans long for truth and the truest explanation for the wonders and strangeness of reality I find in the Catholic Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1324, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Because of the peak of the Catholic faith is found in the Mass, I am willing to deal with face the difficulties of bringing young children to church. The path toward Truth is not always easy to follow but it is always worth it in the end.

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2. Peace Be with You: A Catholic priest once described the liturgy as a theological GPS that orients us back to the correct path when we fall away. This image always stuck with me. I seem to wander from the path of holiness frequently. My patience wears thin, I struggle with charity of speech, and I act rashly at times. Frankly, I think weekly attendance of Mass is far, far too infrequent for me! If it were not for my familial obligations as a husband and father along with my work duties to my employer, I would go to weekday Mass as well.

Peace is the gift we receive at Mass from the Holy Spirit. The first words that Jesus said to his Apostles in the Upper Room relate to the gift of peace too. In John 20:19 and 21 Jesus says, “’Peace be with you.’… ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” Utilizing my favorite reference book—my trusty Thesaurus—the two synonyms for the word peace that stand out most to me are restfulness and calmness. From my previous posts, you will know that I am not necessarily a calm person. I struggle with anxiety and RESTLESSNESS. Growing up with ADHD and being a father to hyperactive children, I crave peace. I long for rest. The Mass provides me that chance. Not every moment, because I do have to protect my somersaulting son from danger! Still, I found moments in the liturgy where I acquire genuine peace and calmness of heart. The best place on Earth where I have discovered true peace is within the sacrament of the Eucharist during Mass.

3. My Primary Role as Dad: My main role as a father is getting my children to Heaven. I am called to be a saint maker—growth in sanctity occurs in this life. According to the Catholic Church,

The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society (CCC 2207).

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How may I expect my children to love God if I did not establish a habit to visit the Divine Presence and rest in His grace? How do I lead my family on the path of true freedom if I do not experience freedom myself? The answers are incredibly simple—visit God and visit frequently! My father was [and still is] an amazing example of holiness. He is patient, slow to anger, and consistent in his faith. Looking by at how he accomplished the tremendous feat of raising my siblings and I, I realized that the biggest constant is his life [besides my mom] was the Eucharist. God fed my own biological father through this sacrament. The Holy Spirit increased my father’s inherent gift of patience to a profound and loving level—I need to follow that example.

My youngest child still has not called me “daddy” nor even uttered the word! Somedays I struggle to cope with this developmental delay. I noticed that my 18 month old will immediately fold his hands in prayer when I begin the Prayer Before Meals blessing. Seeing those little fingers crossed together humbled me. This small act has made me prouder than anything else. Life is not about how smart, or beautiful, or successful you are. Life is about love and truth. The Holy Spirit sent me a reminder through the person of my toddler.

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Do not be overwhelmed when it comes to raising your children in the faith. Even if you are a single person without children and struggle with motivation to go to Sunday Mass, I encourage you to still go. The joy and peace I experience at the end of the Eucharistic celebration is worth it. I wish that every Sunday Mass felt as good as the above picture looks—but that is not always the case in the reality of life. I need to continue to trust that my apparent feelings of failure and seeming ineptitude of corralling my children at Mass are distinct from the truth we experience every Sunday—that Jesus graces us with the ability to partake of His body, blood, soul, and divinity! No amount of Sunday Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans will change this truth!

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Daily Donnybrook- The Day I Finally KO’d My Former Self

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Depression and anxiety are invisible disorders that fail to show physical signs to the untrained eye. I may seem like a normal young adult in American. I may appear to have my life together: I am married, have three adorable children, own a house, and have a job with benefits. Outwardly, I seem to be fine and dandy all the time.

In reality, I have been fighting a battle my entire life. My foe knows me at the most intimate level—knows my deepest fear, greatest strengths, and what makes me tick. The greatest challenger I ever faced in life is me! This summer I embarked on a journey to acquire tools, strategies, and weapons to combat “my former self”. Earlier this week, I finally broke through the darkness of negativity, anxiety, and depression. I metaphorically knocked out my opponent in a cage match of cranial proportions! Let me share with you how I achieved that.

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1. Professional Help: Recently, I started seeing a professional counsel to help me manage my anxiety and to provide tips to overcome stressful situations. Frankly, my pride staved off appointments as long as possible. I have maintained consistency with scheduling and keeping monthly appointment for a few months now. I can definitely tell the tide is shifting toward favoring “my new self”. I faced a situation at work this week that normally would stress me out. I would tend to obsess over things outside of my control. I faced a situation where I finally consciously  worked to deescalate and did it in an effective, calm, and timely fashion without having any feeling of guilt or anxiety! Professional help from both my counselor and medical doctor– who prescribed me an anxiety medicine that works for me—provided me strength to succeed against my past self.

I used to think that asking for help showed weakness—and that it was a bad thing. My new way of thinking is asking for help still shows weakness—but weakness and vulnerability is not necessarily negative. It is healthy to rely on others.

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2. Unexpected Friendships: Fellowship is strength. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” I do not believe it is a coincidence that I was sent two blessings of possible friendships within the past week at work.

A team member at my site stopped my desk and started up a jovial conservation about Green Bay Packer football and the joys [and anguishes] of playing the classic Nintendo 64 game NFL Blitz 2001. No prompting on my end, this meeting was seemingly random, but it was good—we talked for over 20 minutes!

The second example of an unexpected friendship arrived from a different route. I received an unexpected compliment [ please see my post How an Unexpected Compliment Revitalized My Week for more information] from a co-worker at a different work site. This week we have interacted through email and worked on a couple escalated accounts. During the stress of the week, I have been able to look to this team member for positive feedback and support.

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3. Music: Along with professional help and burgeoning work friendships, I have made it a point to increase the amount of Christian music I listen to on the radio during my drives to and from work. A particular inspiring song started playing as I arrived into the employee parking lot this morning. Instead of quickly turning off the car and rushing to work, I stayed to finish the ending of the song. The melody and words calmed my nervous nature down. I am able to reflect on some of the song lyrics throughout the day in my mind when I face a tough situation.

When I come home, I have been incorporating music in the early evening pre-bedtime routine. The benefits are two-fold: we limit television time for our children and music calms my youngest son down and mitigates the severity of his tantrums—they have been getting concerning lately both in frequency and length. Matt Maher, a Catholic singer and song writer, probably gives me the best songs to listen to overcome my anxiety. I strongly encourage you to play his music—I find it incredibly soothing and positive.

I am champion this week’s battle against my “former self”. Here is the thing about depression and anxiety, this battle is ongoing and constant. Tomorrow presents a new opportunity for me to KO my “former self”. Professional help, fellowship of friends, and positive music created the perfect game-plan to defeat my former way of thinking. If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, try these tactics. Sometimes it may work. For some people these strategies may not work. The key is learning to find people and tools to help you on your our “Daily Donnybrook against your former self”. I will leave you to reflect on the lyrics of an exceptionally positive song by Madisa—Overcomer:

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Staring at a stop sign Watching people drive by T mac on the radio Got so much on your mind Nothing’s really going right Looking for a ray of hope

Whatever it is you may be going through I know he’s not gonna let it get the best of you

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

Everybody’s been down Hit the bottom, hit the ground

Ooh, You’re not alone Just take a breath, don’t forget Hang on to his promises He wants you to know

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

The same man, the great I am The one who overcame death Is living inside of you So just hold tight, fix your eyes On the one who holds your life There’s nothing he can’t do He’s telling you

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

You’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

See don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

Don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

Don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

You’re an overcomer

How an Unexpected Compliment Revitalized My Week

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According to the urban dictionary, the phrase “case of the Mondays” means: a general malaise felt on the first day back to work after the weekend. I was set-up to have a profound “case of the Mondays” yesterday. I came off a superb weekend with visiting close friends and their newborn son . Additionally, I had extra work built up due to me leaving early last Friday–perfect ingredients for a terrible start to the work week! My Monday started with an unexpected three hours of training—I only remembered getting a single email reminder about it as week leading up to it. I am a person who thrives on routine and consistency. I was primed to be a knotted ball of stress going into my lunch break. Something sudden and seemingly inadvertent happened—I received an unexpected compliment!

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1. Thankfulness is life-giving: I received praise from a team member that I worked with on a couple escalated accounts last week. She lauded me for my professionalism in dealing with the troublesome situation caused by mistakes in our business line’s process. This flabbergasted me. I felt like I failed in a myriad of ways to end last week—I got frustrated, lacked trust in workflow processes, and doubted my ability to perform my job.

This simple complimentary email filled me with joy. Gratitude tends to reinvigorate souls in despair. The great American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou once said, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good”. The only thing I would change about her statement is that we should carry the pillow of gratitude throughout the day not just at night.

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2. Praise Pontoon Against my Pride: Normally, when I receive praise at work I struggle to stay humble. My pride tends to well up until it overflows and leads to problems for me later that day or week. Authentic praise and gratitude is a theological ark against the sin of pride. Monday’s workday consisted of many deadlines and high priority cases. The compliment provided protection from the rain of Monday’s anxiety.

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3. Wrestling Wickedness: St. Catherine of Bologna lived in the 15th century, yet her holiness remains relevant for us today. She compiled a list of seven general tenets [I call them weapons to fight sin] to grow in holiness. Here is a brief summary:

a. The first weapon I call zeal, that is solicitude in doing good, since the Holy Scripture condemns those who are negligent and lukewarm in the way of God (Apocalypse 3.15-16).

b. The second weapon is mistrust of self, that is, to believe firmly and without doubt that one could never do anything good by oneself, as Christ Jesus said: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15.5).

c. The third weapon is to put one’s trust in God and for love of him to fiercely wage battle with great readiness of spirit against the devil and against the world and one’s own flesh which is given one in order that it might serve the spirit.

d. The fourth is the memory of the glorious pilgrimage of that immaculate lamb, Christ Jesus, and especially his most holy death and passion, keeping always before the eyes of our minds the presence of his most chaste and virginal humanity.

e. The fifth weapon is to remind oneself that we must die.

f. The sixth weapon is the memory of the goods of paradise which are prepared for those who lawfully struggle by abandoning all the vain pleasures of the present life in accord with the saying of the most holy doctor Saint Augustine that it is impossible to enjoy present goods and future ones too.

g. The seventh weapon with which we can conquer our enemies is the memory of Holy Scripture which we must carry in our hearts and from which, as from a most devoted mother, we must take counsel in the things we have to do.

 

The overall theme in these tenets is that gratitude and trust overcome the prowess of evil. Catherine uses the term memory. Thankfulness boiled to its simplest meaning is essential remembrance of an act someone did toward you. To remind ourselves of God’s trust and the good [and maybe not so good] things in our lives is a way to help in cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

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4. Sow tears…acquire joy: The psalmist proclaims in Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy.” Prior to this week, the meaning of these words eluded my understanding. Understanding prayers of laments usually do not occur until after a blessing is granted. This is definitely the case for me. In a way, I planted a theological garden with my tears of frustration last week. Over the weekend, God worked in the heart of my co-worker and inspired her to write a generous thank you letter to show how I am appreciated. Growing takes time. We just need to trust that God will transform tears into joy in His providential scheduling.

C.S. Lewis understood the importance of living with thankfulness on the forefront of our mind. He once said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” Let us continue to rely on time and space as a schoolhouse in developing gratitude!

3 Reasons Why My Life is like a Maze

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The great Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” His words seemed geared especially for my ears. I tend to overthink and over analyze situations in my life. As a result, instead of simply living I conflate daily stresses into something bigger than need be. I started doing puzzles to help me deal with my anxiety. I also rediscovered my childhood love of maze puzzles. That got me thinking life is sort of like a maze. The dictionary defines the word maze as “a network of paths and hedges designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way out”. A secondary definition for this word is when it is used as a verb: “to be dazed and confused”. I will incorporate both descriptions about mazes in my writing today. Here are three ways why my life lately is like a maze.

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1. Life is complex, yet beautifully simple: Life is a busy and complex event. As a parent of three children life grows greater in complexity: school is starting up shortly, bedtime routines need to be followed strictly, kids get sick, my wife is starting a new job, my job is ever-changing on a weekly basis. Life is complex. But does it have to be.

When I stop and reflect on my life all I truly need to do include: feeding my family and myself, providing a shelter, teaching my children, providing clothing, and helping my wife. Life is a paradox—it is both simple and complex. Matthew 6:25-34 tells of the simplicity in life and Jesus urges his followers [and us] not to worry as we will be provided for because the birds of the air and other creatures are cared for as well.

Mazes are both simple and complex. All mazes have a beginning and end—simple. However, each maze is unique in its level of complexity due to the amount of dead-ends and size—complex.

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2. Know the beginning and the end: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, provides me clarity about the purpose and goal of this life.

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator. (CCC 27).

Through faith and science I know that the origin of the universe began with a omnipotent force—known to Christians as God. Witnesses of the saints’ lives, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and my faith inform me that death is not the end. Rather it is a springboard to a possible eternity with God. Life is like a maze in that it is book-ended with a clear start and finish. Why does the in between section [life] become complicated? Why do I find myself laboring through a labyrinth? The answer is simple—I forget the beginning and end goals of my puzzle that I call life.

3. Dot-to-dot living- perception or possibility?: Along with mazes, I enjoyed completing dot-to-dot puzzles in my elementary years. Having a son going into kindergarten this year has reminded me of these fun and simple type of games. Unlike mazes, dot-to-dots are straightforward—you simply start with the lowest number [or letter] dot and connect it to the next digit until the puzzle is complete. Oftentimes, I wish my life played out more like a dot-to-dot puzzles than a maze. I enjoy order and a linear pattern to living. Why does God allow life to exist in dot-to-dot manner? Why does He permit mazes caused by evil [personal and natural] to tangle up my life?

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I asked these questions during period of my deepest depression and intense suffering. Arriving on the other side of suffering, I came to realize both through experience and prayer that God allows mazes to develop in human life due to the gift of free will. Freedom is both the greatest gift and great challenge we face on a daily basis. I am free to try impose my control over this life and fashion it into dot-to-dot living or I am free to embrace the a[maze]ness of this life and learn to rely on others and God for help and support when I inevitably face apparent dead-ends in my spiritual life.

Centering my life on a proper order of love—God, family, friend, fellow men—provides stability. Instead of laboring through life’s labyrinth, embracing my maze allows me to live to the fullest. Saint John tells us of God’s enduring nature in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, then beginning and the end.” When I view life through this sense I am able to incorporate Confucius’ teaching in daily living.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

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3 Ways the Epistle of James Helps Me Succeed in Day-to-Day Living

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In the age of the Internet, iPhones, social media, and other technological amenities of the 21st century, is learning from the pages of centuries old writing even relevant anymore? Have we not progressed as a society where psychologists, depression medicine, and other self-help tactics are a dime a dozen? While I do believe there our current social-historical environment enjoys some of the greatest advancements and quality of life in the history of the human race, there still is wisdom to be gleaned from ancient texts. I came across such writing recently in both a familiar yet fresh place—the Epistle of James from the New Testament.

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1. Build your house on the living cornerstone instead of out of straw: One of my favorite children’s short stories is The Story of the Three Little Pigs. Along with being able to tell that tale to my children now, I enjoy the practical and simple message that the story contains. Preparation is key and having a solid foundation is vital not only to having a secure home, but also leading a stable and joyful life. Martin Luther, the champion of the Protestant Reformation, once called the Letter of James an “epistle of straw”. He jettisoned this work from his New Testament. As a result, the Protestant canon does not officially contain the Epistle of James.

Simply by reading the writing by St. James, his work is definitely not built on straw. Rather, this is truly an inspired text. I find practical applications of its message in my daily life. James 1:2 provides healing during stressful times in my life. Chapter 1 verse 2 states, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.” This advice is much tougher than it sounds to incorporate, but I have noticed when I take time to discover joy in my suffering that weight becomes more bearable! Let Christ me a cornerstone for your life.

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2. Tame the tongue: James 3 focuses on the dangers and evils associated with ill words. The New Testament writer uses such eloquent speech and examples. Because I do not want to downplay the inspired epistle I will cite James’ text before I provide the lessons I learned. St. James authoritatively states,

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, 2for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. 6The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.b 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers. 11Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.c (James 3:1-12).

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Here is the practical wisdom and spiritual guidance I gather from this passage:

· Words guide actions

· Men may tame the natural world, but only the Holy Spirit may tame mankind

· Failure to control our speech will have dangerous consequences in daily life

· Complaining and cursing lead to destruction of a person’s entire character

3. Actions speak louder than words: Music provided a refuge from my depression in high school. During my junior and senior years, I was a part of nearly every musical group the school had to offer: All-state choir, chamber choir, musical, caroling, and show choir. There was a particular song I remember the varsity show choir sang during my freshman year—Louder than Words from the musical Tick, Tick…BOOM. I occasionally find myself singing the refrain randomly over the years. Below is an excerpt from the more famous part of the song and the section that I most remember.

Why do we play with fire?

Why do we run our finger through the flame?

Why do we leave our hand on the stove-

Although we know we’re in for some pain?

Oh, why do we refuse to hang a light

When the streets are dangerous?

Why does it take an accident

Before the truth gets through to us?

Cages or wings?

Which do you prefer?

Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?

Don’t say the answer

Actions speak louder than words.

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I am not sure what the original intention the songwriter’s had in composing the lyrics, but the juxtaposition between cages or wings is a simple and relatable image that I reflect on constantly during my battles against depression. I often toe the line between freedom and entrapment. What this song does a good job doing is reminding myself that deeds define a person. Words are cheap. Verbal promises are created easily. Where it gets difficult if when we our actions need to be consistent with our words—especially in times of trial! How often do we select cages over the freedom of wings? Do we allow sloth and our pride to prevent us from seeking new opportunities to act, to serve others, and engage in things that bring us true and lasting freedom? Do we choose fear or love?

The epistle of James provides us an answer to these questions. James states, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?i If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?j 17 So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17). It is not sufficient to say that you love God, or that you love your neighbor. True faith is demonstrable. It dons the cloak of charity in feeding the hungry, comforting the depressed, or helping the disenfranchised.

Will you make your house out of straw? Why is refraining from sins of the tongue a good thing? Do you prefer cages or wings? The Epistle of James provided me practical answers to these questions. His writing leads me to have the possibility for daily success!