Thursday, August 23, 2012

Filling Up the Jar

Several years ago, I attended a youth conference which greatly impacted my life.  One thing that I still remember quite clearly was a talk about fitting God into our busy lives.  The speaker used the following analogy: Take a very large jar.  This represents the sum total of your time.  If you fill it first with all the little things (represented by small pebbles and stones) like leisure time, school work, job, friends, family, and all those other one hundred and one things you simply have to get done, your jar becomes very full, very quickly.  And then when you try to "fit in" God and a spiritual life (represented by a large rock), you simply can't find the space/time.  If you put God in first, however, you still have plenty of room for all those other little pebbles to fit around the large rock.

This analogy has proven true time and again over the past several years up to the present day.  We tend to think that we haven't got time for that rosary, or a chaplet, or daily Mass.  There are so many other things on our plate that we can't afford even 10 minutes in prayer.

Let's take a step back and see with what we do fill our time.  Eating.  Relaxing.  Working.  Studying.  Chilling.  Sleeping.  Spending time with family and friends.  And at the end of the day, generally we still haven't crossed off even one third of the things on our checklists.  So how could we have time to add in one more thing, especially something so daunting as developing our spiritual life?

The answer is beautifully simple.  If you commit yourself to putting God first, everything else will fall into place.  I understand that everyone has different claims on their time, talent and treasure.  No one, however, has so much to do that they can't spend even a few minutes in prayer.

In my own experience, I have discovered that when I put God first, He rewards me one hundredfold.  At the present, I have the blessed opportunity to attend daily mass.  I know that there are many other things I could be doing, some of them highly productive, with the time I spend in mass.  I, however, wouldn't trade my spiritual time for anything else.  I'm studying the law, which is arguably one of the most difficult graduate programs to survive, let alone succeed in.  I know that times will be inevitably stressful, especially come exam week.  I also know, however, that if I continue to develop my spiritual life and relationship with God, I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.  With His help, I can conquer my legal studies with excellence.  Without Him, nothing else has any true meaning.

So the next time you pass by a church, stop in for a few minutes just to say hello.  God likes hearing from us.  Make an earnest effort to go to mass more than once a week, or to say a daily chaplet or rosary.  Talk to God throughout your day.  If something is troubling you, ask Him for help.  If you're suffering, offer it up for the poor souls in Purgatory or those suffering around the world.  If you're happy about something, thank Him for the blessings.  It's really the little things that count.  Put the big rock of Faith and God into your life first, and everything else will fall right into place.

Friday, August 17, 2012

I'm All Alone . . . With No One Here Beside Me

Growing up most people dream about that day when they finally live on their own.  When they rent that first shoe box apartment or tiny house.  "That's the day," they say, "When I can do whatever I want.  I'll be free to come and go as I please.  I can eat all the junk food.  I can stay up late and watch movies real loud."  Sounds like the high life, right?  Even with all the bills that inevitably accompany your own place, you wish for the freedom it affords.

I'm currently sharing a two-bedroom apartment with one roommate.  I barely see her, though, so it's almost like having my own huge apartment.  (Huge is defined as: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, dining room, and spacious front entrance.)  But I'm discovering just how lonely living on your own can be.  The only social interaction I have right now is when I go to my classes or Mass.  Other than that, I'm holed up in my room studying and relaxing by watching movies and tv shows.  This whole "living alone" thing is not really all that great for my social life.

Of course, my awesome apartment space means that, technically, I've got lots of room for entertaining guests.  Or studying with all those friends of mine.  Oh, wait.  That's right.  My introverted shy personality (or maybe it's an intimidating aura) makes the process of creating new friendships extremely slow and difficult.  And the very few friends I've made so far are all in the same boat as me with the huge study load.

All this to say, living alone is great for that freedom aspect, but for me, it's going to make leaving my comfort shell even more difficult than normal.  Because I have no roommate to bring me into new social settings (and no gumption to invite myself), my social circle isn't going to expand very far at all.  Not that I really want a whole bunch of friends.  Too many people to keep up with makes my head spin.  Regardless, while I enjoy having my very own space, at the same time, I've realized that I don't really ever want my own apartment completely away from everyone else.  I'll survive here because I see the same people on a regular basis.  But moving to a foreign city alone could be severely detrimental.  Therefore, I have decided that when I move to a more permanent location, it will be somewhere I have connections or friends.  Some basis of human contact pre-existing rather than leaping into the great unknown without one familiar face to help ease the drop to Earth.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Setting the Bar High

You know what the worst part of achieving some semblance of excellence?  The expectations of those around you.  Let me first state that everyone should set the bar of excellence high.  Furthermore, living up to those expectations, while it may be a daunting task, is well worth the effort.  Each of us, as a child of God, is called to our ultimate destination: Heaven.  In order to achieve that goal, we must, with the grace of God, strive towards the excellence of a truly Christian life.  Each person goes about the specifics of this journey in their own way, but the general principles remain the same.

Someone you respect says, "I expect great things from you."  Regardless of your personal standard of excellence, you now inevitably feel pressure to achieve an even higher standard.  Nobody wants to disappoint the people they respect and love.  A distinction must be drawn, however, between the abstract "great things" and the concrete "great things" insofar as they apply to a specific situation.  Let's say, hypothetically, that you're pursuing graduate studies in a field which you're not exactly enthused to pursue.  Everyone around you insists that you will thrive in these particular studies, and that you will go on to do great things.  What if you change your mind and pursue something else?  Are you letting them down?  And if you are, does it really matter?

Living up to someone else's expectations can be a fantastic means of compelling yourself to draw closer to your ultimate goal.  Do not, however, let their expectations dictate how you specifically strive towards excellence.  The specifics about how you "achieve greatness" are entirely up to you.  And God, of course.  Furthermore, simply because you quit one pursuit to take up another does not mean that you've abandoned your pursuit of excellence.  Someone who truly cares about you will understand that the specifics of where and when don't matter so long as you are striving for excellence.  The secular world may look at a person who abandons graduate studies after a year as a failure.  You didn't complete the task at hand.  The secular world doesn't understand the true meaning of excellence.  It doesn't hinge on whether you graduate or not.  It hinges on whether you put your all into everything you did.  If you can stand up and honestly say that you tried your hardest to succeed, then no one can slight you for switching specific paths.  

Plus, God alone knows why each of us is where we are at the specific time we are there.  Maybe His plan for you only included one year of graduate studies because He knew that was all the time you needed there –– whether you'd met the people or learned the lessons you needed to learn before moving on to the next stage in your life.  The only way to know for certain, however, that you're following God's plan is to pray.  Spend time with Him.  Ask Him your questions.  Tell Him your worries.  Place your trust in His loving hands.  I know it isn't easy to act upon these statements.  Believe me, I've had my rough days –– still do.  I also know, however, that practice makes perfect.  If you fall, get right back up again.  God wants us to be happy and to gain access to the Kingdom of Heaven.  He'll help you every step of the way if you'll only let Him.

"I expect great things from you."