Fr. Dale Matson
As we mature, we hopefully gain a sense of mastery and self-efficacy. From a developmental standpoint, we grow in many domains including intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual. There are certain necessary developmental end points such as limits on physical growth. As fluid intelligence diminishes, we compensate with acquired knowledge. Spiritually, we develop our entire lives. The Christian lives in the present with eyes looking toward the future. The three theological virtues of faith, hope and love do not look back. They do not dwell in the past.
My sadness and pain is for those I know who have become mired down and live in the past. They have established a developmental beachhead or benchmark by which they orient their lives. Often it is a mishap or a perceived injustice. They have not learned to view the experience through God’s eyes. They have circled the wagons and ended their development. They have chosen a life of victimhood. They are bitter and angry. They are hyper reflective and increasingly isolated. They have chosen the path of death. It is death on the installment plan but it is surely death. This is a no risk, no gain, dried up, and stuck existence. Sentences begin with, “I suppose I should but….” The point of orientation for their lives is in the past. The gravitational pull toward the past is a seemingly irresistible force. Like many Israelites, they have returned to the captivity of the past in Egypt. They are no longer pilgrims.
What is the remedy for such a wretched life headed toward death? St. Paul often used the race as a metaphor for life. Each race however requires training, self-discipline, and incremental stages of progress. Training is “goal specific”. Muscle development is task specific. You cannot swim a mile by running a marathon and you cannot run a marathon without incrementally increasing a long run. Training for a goal is future oriented. It pulls us forward. This is not just true in the physical domain. It is also true in the other domains of life as well. Completing an interrupted college degree can be a new point, a benchmark for the future. Goals are our pillar of cloud by day and our pillar of fire by night.
Have you or someone you knew lost a great deal of weight and are no longer obese? This is how God intended us to be. He gave us a heart, lungs, organs and bones for our skeletal frame. As a backpacker, I know what an obese person is carrying in extra weight. Our joints simply break down sooner with the enormous weight. Having a goal of weight loss can set a waypoint in our future which will become a new benchmark. It will become a new point of orientation. It will make us forward looking but this too must be an incremental goal.
God understands incremental preparation for the future. Yes, David faced Goliath but before that he had killed both a lion and a bear. There are few goals beyond the ordinary person who applies disciplined training. It is the realization and desire to employ the talents given us by God. It is a decision to leave the past hurts behind and to continue the pilgrimage. Rivers of living water are to come from the belly of the Christian. We are streams not stagnant ponds with no inlet and no outlet. God calls us forward and it is a call to life not death. Find a realistic, measureable goal and work incrementally toward it. It is a way out of the misery of the past and a way toward the Kingdom. “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15). Each day the choice is ours. Now is the acceptable time.