What a Drag!

Let me state what ought to be obvious to us all: in this life, we all struggle. No one can escape it.

I say that this ought to be obvious because we sometimes forget it and it ends up causing us a lot of grief. There are several reasons why we forget. First, there is a longing in our hearts for Paradise, for a place that is free of struggle.  We know that there are joys in this life and moments of peace, but we want more of it and less struggle. So we try to create our own paradise, often only in our minds and fantasies. We become bitter because life never adds up to the fantasy. Life is black and white, but in our minds it’s all “Kodachrome.” ( a reference for all my old Paul Simon friends.)

To add to this, there are people who seem to  “have it all.” They are smarter, better looking, drive a fine car, live in a paradise of a house, and have lots and lots of money and excellent jobs. We call them “stars,” and this culture just can’t stop talking about them. We make comparisons and so our life seems drab and dull and full of struggle. It irritates us and we ask “why not me?” We get angry at God because we struggle so much and think that if He really loved us, we would have a carefree life just like those other people. Yet, since this culture cannot take its eyes off of the celebrates, it isn’t long until we see that they too have not escaped the struggle of life. We see and hear sad stories of death, suicide, drug abuse, mental illness, alcoholism, broken families and divorce. You would think that at least people who have faith would see this reality and never forget that to be alive is to struggle and no one escapes. No one.  This is why the Fathers say that we should be kind to everyone that we meet. All of them are fighting a fierce battle.

Depending on the nature of my struggle and how hard it is, I come to think of this as my cross.  This must be what Jesus asked of me when he said, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.”  Actually no. I came across a statement from the Blessed Augustine that flipped things around in my mind. In His Letters to Laetus, 243, he said the following: “For, when I noticed that you were being slowed down in your divine purpose by your preoccupation with domestic cares, I felt you were being carried and dragged along by your cross rather than that you were carrying it.”

I thought I was such a noble character, facing the struggles of my life (even if I really felt that as Shakespeare said, I suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous  fortune”). I tried my best not to blame God and to keep a “stiff upper lip.” I really do believe that the Father loves me and nothing can change that love. Yet, this made me question my struggles even more. Now, St. Augustine tells me that what is happening is that I am being dragged through life by my struggles. I am not carrying them at all. They are carrying me. I am like a surfer on the waves on my struggles.

Is that the last word? There is nothing we can do about it?  Actually, though suffering cannot be avoided, it can be both transformed and transforming.  Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me.”  I noticed  that he said I should pick up MY cross, not his cross. I am to embrace my sorrows, pick them up and carry them. Yet, this alone is not enough. I am also supposed to follow him  with my cross and this is what really makes the difference.

In the face of struggle, I have a choice: deal with it my way or do it his way. I can think of several examples of this principle. There are people who I just find to be irritating and because of the situation, I just can’t away from them. I can’t say that they are enemies, but they certainly aren’t friends. It’s a real struggle, so what should I do?  I might apply the wisdom of the Lord and turn the other cheek or walk an extra mile for them. I might feed them and give them something to drink (literally or spiritually).  Another example: My wife is angry with me and says something mean. I struggle in my mind and I want to strike back. Yet, if I did it the Lord’s way, I would return a “soft answer.” I would not return evil for evil. One final example: I have a passion that just won’t go away, no matter how much I pray and repent. It begins to depress me and I find it so easy to give in. The Lord would tell me to deny myself, to ask for his help, and never stop repenting because no matter how often I fail, He will forgive me. I only have to ask.

We might say that all this is too hard. We just don’t have the strength to do it. Surviving our struggles is tough enough. Also,  there are struggles that are more profound than the ones I have mentioned.  Let’s not forget that we have a powerful ally, the Holy Spirit, that is greater in us than the struggles that we face. He is the Lord, the Giver of Life.  This Spirit strengthen us and can  turn the water of our struggle into wine. The Spirit reminds us of the One who stood before his accusers and was quiet; the One who went to the Cross and said “Father, forgive them…”; the One who said, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

The result is that by doing it his way, we are doing it for his sake and the Gospel.  We save our souls.

We have a choice. We can picked up our cross-we can carry our struggles and following  him, doing it His way, the Cross becomes the source of resurrection and life.  If not, then our struggles are our own and most probably, they are carrying  us. Where they will carry us is anyone’s guess. This being so, then the old sixties slang applies – What a drag!

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