U.S. Catholic magazine interviewed psychologist Robert Wicks, who has spent his life counseling people whose work has taken them into the valley of the shadow: relief workers evacuated from the Rwandan genocide, doctors and nurses who treat returning U.S. veterans with catastrophic injuries. But much of what Wicks had to say also applies to moms and dads trying to cope with the incessant demands of daily life in a family.
How can people begin to feel a sense of peace in their own lives?
I’ll give you an example. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was speaking at General Theological Seminary in New York City to Anglican and Episcopalian seminarians. Halfway through his talk, one of the seminarians in the audience nudged the dean and pointed up and said, “Desmond Tutu is a holy man.”
The dean said, “How do you know he’s holy?” The young man didn’t blink. He said, “I know that Desmond Tutu is holy because when I’m with Desmond Tutu, I feel holy.”
When I work with parents and teachers, I say, “The question I challenge you with is, ‘How do people feel when they’re with you?’ ” It’s not just about you. Do people feel your need to control, your need to be seen as attractive, as bright, as holy, as special, or do they feel this space where they can rest their burdens, their angers, their questions? Again, taking time for renewal and centering is not just about you. When I say that, you can see people get relieved.
Some of the most relaxed and happy people I’ve ever met are some of the people who have so much on their plates but their attitude’s different. That’s what can happen if we don’t step on graces.
Step on graces—what do you mean?
I think we’re given great opportunities every day and we just take them for granted. Let’s say you get sick. Nobody wants to get sick. But the grace is that it stops you and gives you a chance to take a breath and realize, “What am I doing? All I’m doing is activities. I’m doing the laundry and I’m rushing to work, I’m meeting a deadline. There has to be more to life than this.”
That’s an important grace to you, the threat of a serious illness that passes. You’re going to be OK; it wasn’t cancer, or it was cancer but it’s in remission. A woman I know was in this position and someone said to her, “Boy, now that it’s in remission, I guess you’re glad to get back to your routine.”
“No, no,” she said. “That’s what caused the cancer in the first place. That’s definitely not what I’m doing.” Why? Because she didn’t step on the grace.
If I ask people, “Do you think you’re grateful?” I don’t think anybody would say, “No, I’m not really.” But the thing is that we aren’t grateful. How do you know? You’d be happier. Look at your face in the mirror in the morning. Is that a happy face? We’re not grateful. The paradox is that grateful people get more because they always have eyes of gratitude and they see things.
That gratitude is a great grace. If you don’t have that grace, that’s what morning prayer does: It allows you to make friends with gratitude in the morning.
People think being grateful is like having a sign on your car, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” But no, it’s desert wisdom. Abba Poemen and Abba Pior were talking, and one of them was dying. The other says, “Can you give me a word or a lesson before you die?”
He says, “Yes, begin each day afresh.” That sounds corny. But if you really believe you’re saved and forgiven, if you let go of the anger you have toward other people, you’re free. Think about it: What would you do if you didn’t worry?
At Home with Our Faith is Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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