As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I’ve been reading “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.” Yes, I’ve been reading it for awhile. It’s not that I am a slow reader, it’s just that when I find a few minutes here and there to sit down and read, it’s just that – a FEW minutes. Anyways, I am, finally, nearing the end of the book (I plan to finish it before Lent is over!).
Yesterday, as I was reading about working, resting, service, etc., I came across an interesting passage from St. Ignatius. He was speaking to a group of young Jesuits who were so exuberant about their new found desire to serve the Church that they were trying to “out-do” each other with ridiculous religious practices. Ignatius had this to say:
“Let your service be a reasonable service. First…God is not really served in the long run, as the horse worn out in the first days does not as a rule finish the journey…Second, gains that are made with this excessive eagerness are not usually kept…Third, there is the danger of being careless about overloading the vessel. There is danger, of course, in sailing it empty, as it can then be tossed about…But, there is also danger of so overloading it as to cause it to sink.”
As many wise people before me have said, the journey of a Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. We have to be discerning and smart when we choose the ways in which we will serve the Church and our fellow man. If we breakdown St. Ignatius’ words into modern terms, it looks something like this:
(1) Just like a horse or a racing dog who doesn’t set a good pace from the start, if we go over the top with ideas, actions, and intents when we first commit to a project, ministry, job, etc., we’re gonna run out of steam really quickly.
It’s not that we don’t want to make a good first impression or show what we are capable of when we start something, but if we kill ourselves trying to be “the best parish picnic planner EVER” (or whatever) the first time we do it, we’ll be less inclined to either do it again or do it as well the following years. My opinion is, do it well the first time, but leave room for yourself to see how you can improve over time, thus keeping you interested in the project or job.
(2) The second point makes me think of exercise programs. Personal trainers or athletes know that for someone to stick to a program and progress steadily at it, you don’t start out with the hardest, most intense exercising. Sure, a person might do it for the first week because they are so pumped up about getting in shape, but when they realize how hard it is to keep doing that, the general population won’t stick with it. Same with diets.
So it is with God – if we make commitments in Lent or we decide to up the ante in our spiritual life or ministry or family so far beyond what we already do or it’s too much of a change, we may do it for a while, but likely, we’ll fizzle. We have our whole life to live, so why not make the changes one step at a time?
(3) Lastly, the boat analogy, well, it’s pretty clear. A boat that is empty (aka. a person who doesn’t really do anything outside of their own whims), it’s easily tossed about or capsized or damaged. It doesn’t really have anything to give it purpose or direction. Where, exactly, would an empty boat be sailing?
But the other extreme, loading your boat down with so much stuff (activities, ministries, events, projects, places to be, etc.), will only cause the boat to sink. No one thing will get enough attention to be done well and eventually will suffer because it lacks the proper care.
I suppose these thoughts from St. Ignatius really resonate with me because, in a way, it gives us some spiritual breathing room. I don’t think God expects us to overextend ourselves in service to Him. And, we definitely shouldn’t be worried about who is doing more or less than us. Everyone has to find the balance of serving the Church, others, their family, their work to the extent that it’s proper for their lives.
Just because one person has the gifts and talents to be on 3 committees, volunteer at the soup kitchen, be a lector, have a full time job, AND manage their 5 children at home doesn’t mean they are serving God better than you are. Let us remember to give to God 100% of ourselves in love whether it’s in one hundred ways or just one.