Credit: Thomas Blackshear
It has been a tough week. Trying to regain my faith, I listened to a talk given by a Catholic speaker named Matthew Kelly entitled “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself.”
One thing that really struck me was when Matthew spoke about how predictable human nature is. To illustrate his point, Matthew encouraged everyone in the audience to buy a journal and take it to Mass every Sunday. Before Mass, write at the top of the page: What is God Going to Say to Me This Morning?
Listen to the music. Hear the Scriptures being read. Open your heart to the prayers. Meditate on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In some way, God will speak to you. When He does, write it down.
Then Matthew drove his point home: We will bring the journal to Mass the following week, write in it, decide that we don’t want anyone to read our private thoughts, and hide it in an old drawer. Days, months, and years go by. One day we happen to find the journal in the old drawer, rip out the two pages of notes that are no longer important to us, and then use the journal for something else.
In other words, without changing our habits, we will end up stuck in the same sinful life, never to break free.
The inspirational men and women of history had great habits. That’s what separates them from the rest of us.
I have found myself trapped in this disheartening cycle recently. On my way to work this morning, I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to God in spontaneous prayer. Instead, I prayed the Our Father and the Hail Mary (one example of how recited prayers are effective — They are good to fall back on when we just can’t bring ourselves to talk to God).
Listening to the motivational talk on the CD helped. An image ran through my mind afterward: the wonderful painting called Forgiven by Thomas Blackshear (see top of post). I used to see this painting in all the Christian bookstores that I once strolled through. I remember thinking once, Wow. How religious is that! before turning away to look through the bargain bin.
The image of that painting, Jesus holding up an exhausted, hurting young man who is clutching a spike and mallet, burned itself into my mind. That man is me. I’m tired. I’m knee-deep in sin. I’m emotionally drained. It all made perfect sense. It’s funny how we don’t realize the obvious until we are broken-down and ready to give up.
When we find ourselves at the bottom of a muddy pit of despair, there are only but two choices to make: resign ourselves to our “fate” or begin the arduous process of climbing out, inch by agonizing inch. Staying the same may be comfortable, but if we really want a fulfilling life and to get close to God again, we must make every effort. As the saying goes, If you want to see a rainbow, you have to persevere through a storm.
A friend of mine shared a very powerful verse with me recently from Proverbs: Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again. (Pr 24:16)
There is a movie called Any Given Sunday starring Al Pacino as the head coach of a once-great professional (American) football team that is struggling with low morale and internal dissension. In the locker room right before a playoff game, the coach pours out his heart in one of my favorite inspirational speeches in a movie.
The transcript of the pre-game pep talk is below:
I don’t know what to say really.
Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives
all comes down to today.
Now, either we heal as a team,
or we’re gonna crumble.
Inch by inch, play by play, ’til we’re finished.
We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me.
And, we can stay here and get the **** kicked out of us,
Or we can fight our way back into the light.
We can climb out of hell. One inch at a time.
Now, I can’t do it for you. I’m too old.
I look around. I see these young faces and I think:
I made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make.
I ****** away all my money, believe it or not.
I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me.
And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.
You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you.
That’s part of life.
But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out life is this game of inches. So is football.
Because in either game, life or football,
the margin for error is so small.
I mean, one half step too late or too early,
and you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow, too fast,
you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They’re in every break of the game.
Every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch.
On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch.
We claw with our fingernails for that inch!
Because we know, when we add up all those inches,
that’s gonna make the ******* difference between winning and losing!
Between living and dying!
I’ll tell you this: In any fight,
it’s the guy who’s willing to die
who’s gonna win that inch.
And I know, if I’m gonna have any life anymore,
it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch
because that’s what living is!
The six inches in front of your face.
Now, I can’t make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes!
Now, I think you’re gonna see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you’re gonna do the same for him.
That’s a team, gentlemen.
And, either we heal – now – as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That’s football, guys.
That’s all it is.
Now, what are you gonna do?
Here is the video clip of the speech (Warning: Some strong language):