Life is hard right now. We live in an action-oriented society where we are encouraged to “just do it”, and to “make it happen.” Young people in particular are extolled for their busyness, juggling clubs, sports, hobbies, work, and school. The more the better. After all, successful people are doers, right? So what’s a person to do when life shuts down - not just for a few days, but for a full year? Perhaps the action most needed at this time is to simply stay alert.
Recently I have been introduced to three wonderful quotes, two of which I will share now and one which will be shared later in this article.
"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." - Frederick Buechner
"God comes to us disguised as our life." - Paula D’Arcy
In my 50+ years of life, I’ve been fortunate to have met many wonderful people, some of whom are at the very pinnacle of their professions and others who emit a warm inner glow that inspires. Through all of these encounters what I’ve come to appreciate is that none of these people have life figured out. We are all wandering in the wilderness.
There is no path in life that ensures safe passage, however, those who appear to have things figured out the best seem rooted in purpose. They have acquired over time a set of beliefs that guide their actions. Many of these people were born into fortunate circumstances that encouraged reflective practice. Others figured it out on their own. While life might seem easier for these people, leading a reflective life is quite difficult. It involves a constant internal dialogue to make sense of new thoughts and experiences, the capacity to adapt accordingly, and the discipline and courage to stay true to the course even when popular opinion is headed elsewhere.
But what happens when the sand shifts? Even for those whose actions are grounded in their beliefs, difficult times can be disorienting, causing doubt. Doubt, in turn, can cause us to slow or stop. Staying put when lost in the wilderness is often a sound strategy, but that shouldn’t keep us from remaining alert, seeking directional cues, and using our minds and senses to aid in our eventual rescue. Though it might not feel like it, staying alert is an action.
Some of you might have had a reaction to my recent use of the word rescue. After all, we are taught to be strong and independent. No one wants to admit that they need help or, even worse, that they need saving. This is, perhaps, the hardest part of living a reflective life - surrendering to self and living in a vulnerable state. Staying put and remaining alert. Listening for the Voice calling in the wilderness providing a sense of direction and hope.
It is important to recognize, however, that there are multiple voices in the wilderness competing for your attention. Like the Sirens of Greek mythology, some of these voices, though alluring, are destructive. Just as actions are often grounded in beliefs, beliefs need grounding as well. And what you ground your beliefs in makes all of the difference. A very good place to turn for that grounding is a faith tradition.
Think of beliefs as a building’s foundation; it is certainly necessary in maintaining the integrity of the structure, but without securing the foundation to bedrock, the foundation can be easily compromised by turbulent events. A person’s faith is bedrock. It provides the anchor that tethers beliefs to a standard of truth. This is where a daily practice of reflective prayer like St. Ignatius’ Examen can be so valuable, particularly for a young person trying to mature into an authentic self.
Reflective prayer marries a person’s internal self with his/her external world thus revealing an imperfect self that is redeemable through actions evermore oriented toward Christ and his witness. St. Ignatius refers to this as the Magis which leads me to my third and final quote, lifted from a recent prayer experience offered through Loyola Press’ Three Minute Retreat, "A life connected to Jesus means a life that loves more, forgives more, and gives more." That’s something worth striving for.
A special plug for Catholic schools.
As teens naturally exercise more independence, they begin to question their previously held beliefs which were often heavily influenced by their parents. Something will fill that void. Noting that a young person’s circle of influence primarily consists of those associated with their formal schooling, that is where he/she is likely to turn. While all schools hope to provide their students a foundation, Catholic schools drill deeper to bedrock, and they introduce through their programming reflective practices that will serve their students for a lifetime.
May you find solace, peace, and hope during these difficult times.
CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman is the Founder & President of Arrupe Virtual
vol 3 issue 5