The Radical Life

by matthew warner

We often chase darkness around our lives as if it were a something. We try to chip away at it like it’s a boulder. But it’s not a boulder, it’s a hole. And chipping away at holes is no way to get rid of them.

Instead, think of the sin and darkness in your life as a hole – something to be filled up, not forced out.

If you are tempted at something sinful, don’t just wrestle with the temptation, but befriend its replacement. Fall in love with the light that fills that dark hole in your life.

For instance, if you struggle with pride, fall in love with humility. If you struggle with always being right, explore the wonders and freedom of admitting you’re wrong. If you struggle with lust, learn to value self-control and the dignity of others.

If you struggle with envy, embrace admiration. Angry? Binge on forgiveness. Selfish? Commit to serving others.

If there is a person you find hard to love, don’t get hung up on trying to look past their flaws. Rather, seek out their goodness. Do that, and suddenly you won’t notice their flaws so much.

Light is the only thing that can destroy darkness. Don’t run blindly around your dark room trying to scoop up darkness and set it outside. It’s a futile effort. Instead, turn on the light.

I have the privilege of taking my son to his Taekwondo class every week. It happens to be during the normal work day, so I build my work schedule around it.

But when I go, and he’s out there practicing, it’s always tempting to pull out my phone and “be productive.” Especially when he’s waiting in line for his turn to do something, listening to the instructor, etc.

But how does my son see it all? For the most part, he’s too caught up in the moment out on the floor to notice me. He’s usually focused on kicking a target, learning a new block or watching a more advanced student.

But every once in awhile he looks up for me, over to my spot on the sideline. And not just to make sure I’m still there, but to make sure I’m watching. He’s excited about something he’s doing and he instinctively wants me to share in that moment with him. He’ll have this look on his face that says, “See what I just did, Dad!? Are you proud of me? Do you care? Are you with me!?”

These are important moments, and I’m convinced that the summation of these seemingly trivial moments will contribute more to my relationship with my son and who he becomes than almost anything else. They help determine whether *he* cares about what he’s doing, how much he values himself and how proud he feels.

And the thing is, these moments are unpredictable. They can happen at any moment. And if every time he looks over to connect with me I’m looking at my phone or my work or somebody else instead, I’ve missed that important moment. And I’ve given the impression to him – rightly or wrongly – that I’m not watching him at all.

It’s simply not worth missing those moments. Whatever extra work I would have gotten done. Whatever entertainment I could have engaged on my phone or in conversation with another parent won’t have been worth it.

I even used to spend time during his class typing reminders on my phone of things to work with him on after class — advice on a particular technique or how he needs to bow more deeply or say “yes sir” more loudly. But even that, if all he sees when he looks over is me on my phone, I won’t be giving him what he needs most in that moment.

Now, instead, I watch the whole time as best I can. I try not to take my eyes off him, just at the small chance I’ll get to give him another smile that says, “I’m with you, son!”

I watch him run. I watch him listen. I watch him help others. I watch others help him. I watch his eyes light up when he breaks a board with a single kick, as he realizes just how powerful he is. In that moment, how could there possibly be a more “productive” way to spend my time?

Sure, when he’s older he’ll appreciate a dad who loved him by putting a roof over his head, worked hard all his life, carted him around to his various activities, celebrated with him and encouraged him to be his best. But I think what he needs even more than that is a dad who’s willing to watch.

I love simple prayers. They are versatile, so they can be used at almost any time and for any reason. They are also short, meaning you always have time for them.

Some prayers you just say in your heart. Some you also speak out loud or sing. Others still are sacramental, becoming visible signs of something deeper.

Making and praying the “Sign of the Cross” is one such prayer. As a Catholic, I grew up making the sign of the cross before and after prayers, upon entering and leaving churches, etc. But I always took this profound and simple prayer for granted, quickly throwing it in and treating it as a trivial formality.

But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate it, and therefore benefit from it, much more. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. It’s a very old prayer. So we can pray it in solidarity with all Christians throughout time.

One of the early Church Fathers, Tertullian, documented just how common a practice it was among the first Christians: “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross” (De corona, 30. 250 ad).

2. It’s prayer incarnate.

It engages our physical senses, which is kinda nice since we’re physical beings. When you pray it, you can simply trace a cross with your thumb on a forehead, etc. Or, more commonly, you’ll use three fingers on one hand to make a motion from your forehead and down to your chest, then from your left shoulder across to your right shoulder — making a cross. So not only do we pray it in our heart, but our whole body prays it with us — bringing it to life for us and those around us.

3. It tells The Great Story.

The cross is the central sign of our salvation. It should be constantly on our mind.

We usually pray this prayer saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This invokes the Trinity – the central mystery of Christian faith and life. But this simple formula also tells the great story of salvation history at the same time.

Fr. Barron tells the story of this simple prayer this way: [while making the sign of the cross] “God the father so loved the world, he sent his only son all the way down that we might be gathered into the Holy Spirit.”

This prayer tells a love story. The Love Story. And we’re all wonderfully tangled up in this overflowing Love Affair.

Every time we make the sign of the cross, we tangle ourselves up in it even more, entering into and retelling this great story. How wonderful to be so tangled.

Forgive me if this seems like a depressing subject. It’s actually the opposite.

I remember when I was in college, a short twelve years ago. I was consumed with myself. It’s a natural, although selfish, mindset for anyone at that stage in life. What should be my major? What classes should I take? What clubs should I join? What am I going to do after I graduate? What are my responsibilities? Am I fulfilling them? Where will I go? What does the rest of my life look like? Who will I spend it with?

The future was a big question mark that consumed my daily energy and thought. And that’s only once I managed to move past the other more pressing questions. Like how do I look? What does everyone else think of me? Is so-and-so really my friend?

It’s not that questions like these don’t matter for you. But I’ve learned they don’t matter that much. At least not when we put them into the right context…

The context of death. Your death, to be specific.

“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” – Euripides

Now, you can choose to be depressed about that. Or, you can let it sweeten every moment of this adventure that you are alive until then.

But the subject of your death is not only a reminder to cherish the time you have here. More importantly, it’s a reminder that your time here is finite.

Whether it happens by the end of this sentence or in 100 years, your life here will end. And it will have been short. Just ask anybody who’s died. And guess what? All of those questions I mentioned above? The answers to those won’t really matter anymore.

And you won’t be the one asking yourself questions, either. The One who made you will be. You know, the Guy who has a very important plan and purpose for your life? The Guy who offers you freedom from all of your useless worries and small stresses for the simple cost of everything? The Guy who demands faithfulness, not success? Yeah. That guy.

The Guy who, when you die, will ask you things like, “what did you do for the least of mine?” And “did you do it with love?” “How did you spend the time I gave you on Earth?”

In other words, did you spend your life for God and others as if each moment were your last? Or did you spend it selfishly, taking your days for granted, assuming you’d have time for that other stuff later?

At any moment now your last moment and this moment will be the same moment. This is a fact of life that nobody escapes. The good news is that in every moment up until then, you are being offered eternity. The deal is — you trade your current, short, often painful, difficult life where you end as dust in exchange for a life of eternal joy. It’s a killer deal. But it’s a limited time offer.

Oh, and it just so happens that this “deal” is not only the ticket to peace and joy in the next life, it’s also the secret to peace and joy in this life. Make the deal. However long God gives you in this first adventure, embrace and be thankful for every bit of it. Live it to the fullest. Don’t waste another moment of it doing anything other than something for God.

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” – Albus Dumbledore

Live every moment of this life for God and others and you’ll be very well organized for the next great adventure — whenever God wants that to begin.

Each of us is connected to every other human that has ever lived. We share a common biology, creator and experience that deeply bonds us in solidarity with one another.

Likewise, one of the neat things about being a Christian is our unique connection with all of the other Christians who have ever lived. We share a common relationship — one that bridges time and space, life and death — with the same Divine Person: Jesus.

And this connectedness has been made most practically tangible for us and been passed down to us by way of that most familiar of historical conduits: Tradition. And, in particular, the Tradition of Jesus’ and His Apostles.

That’s why it is so comforting to look back at what the first Christians did to practice their faith and to find the familiar Mass our family is blessed to participate in every Sunday. It’s quite the connection indeed, and it’s amazing to think about the billions of folks who have done this very same thing for 2000 years and will continue to do so until the end.

The following video recounts a letter from St. Justin Martyr to the Emperor Antoninus Pius in 155 AD explaining what Christians back then (only a generation or two after the Apostles) did to worship. Cool stuff.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have…and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

— from Mother Teresa’s wall (adapted from Kent Keith)

 

Deep down, we usually know what the right thing to do is. But if we simply don’t want to do it, we won’t have any trouble coming up with an endless list of lame excuses to justify not doing it. In fact, some of the excuses may even seem like really good ones.

Do the right thing anyway. It will make all the difference.

dogoodanyway

It’s never been all that radical to break the commandments (i.e. to sin). Anybody can do so without much effort at all.

What is rebellious is to keep the commandments, despite the ease of breaking them. Breaking them is far too tame. If you want to be wild, novel and noteworthy — keep them. You’ll get to experience life more deeply than most and you’ll be free of the crippling vices that keep so many from reaching their true potential.

Consider a wine glass that you take on a trip around the world and back. There would be nothing noteworthy about having broken the glass along the way. But there is something special about bringing it all the way back home in one piece (even if you had to piece it back together along the way).

Be radical:

“Break the convention. Keep the commandments.” – G.K. Chesterton

Speaking of breaking conventions, we should do more of it still. For while it is never good to break commandments, it is often very good to break conventions: those human habits we develop over time that we forget can be changed at any moment. These are things like how we work, what our daily schedule looks like, how we form community, what we do for entertainment, how we spend our idle time, how the political process works, the way we solve social ills and how we form our children. Such conventions can be cultural ruts we get stuck in for so long that we lose the ability to even imagine how things might be different (and hopefully better).

These conventions are what need breaking every now and again. Not only for the sake of human flourishing, but to stoke the fire inside of us. To stir us on to participate in that courageous, creative process along side the Creator. It’s the beginning of figuring out how we can work differently, live more intentionally and love more radically.

Let’s break the conventions and conform them to the commandments — not the other way around.

A few years ago I did some rough calculations:

There are about 25.5 million teenagers in the USA (ages 13-19). On average, each teen spends 87 hours per year looking for or at pornography online. That means U.S. teens spend about 2.2 billion man-hours on pornography per year.

There are about 230 million adults in the USA (ages 20 and up). On average, each one spends 40 hours looking at pornography. That means US adults spend an estimated 9.2 billion man-hours on pornography per year.

So, all together, US adults and teens spend 11.4 billion man-hours per year on internet pornography alone.

We also spend over $13.3 billion on pornography in the United States every year.

Here area a few other things we could do with that same time and money:

With that same amount of time (man-hours) we could…

  1. Build the Empire State building…1,628 times.
  2. Visit every single one of the 1.5 million U.S. nursing home residents, every single day of the year, for 20 hours a day…and still have free time left over.
  3. Visit every single one of the 2 million prisoners in the United States, every single day, two visitors at a time, for 8 hours.
  4. Have every single person in the U.S. spend an extra 36 hours in prayer.
  5. Spend 3 extra hours per week with each and every one of the 75 million teens and children in the United States.

With that same amount of money we could…

  1. Provide, prepare and serve 7 billion school lunches. That’s enough to feed over 38 million students every school day of the year.
  2. Pay for 1.9 million four-year college degrees.
  3. Build 190,000 Habitat for Humanity homes…in Orange County, CA. Or we could build 7.25 million of them in India.
  4. Give $13.3 million to one thousand different charities each.
  5. Feed 1 billion people a meal…70 times.

And this says nothing of all of the other negative side effects that would be avoided if we could give up our porn.

How many marriages are stressed by it? How many families broken? How many addictions formed? How many marital unions defiled, nullified and deeply scarred? How many abusers made callous to the dignity of the human person? How many brains are re-wired to objectify rather than dignify? How many innocents are spoiled? And how many young, struggling people are drawn into an industry that lets us degrade them for our own entertainment and pleasure? And subjects them to a lifestyle that very often kills them (the life expectancy of a porn star/stripper is 37 years)?

We thought the days of the Coliseum were long gone. They’re really not. Its walls may have crumbled, but they’ve been resurrected around dark, shadowy clubs and private web portals where we reduce our fellow human beings to objects of our own entertainment at the expense of their pain and destruction.

The mask of the party and the barrier of computer screens dangerously deceives us into thinking nobody is getting hurt. But not only are we hurting all of the people we objectify and take advantage of, and not only are we hurting all the people we could have been helping with that time/money instead, but we’re also hurting ourselves. Rewiring our brains into lesser versions of ourselves that compete directly with the radically satisfying life we were created to live.

All because we can’t give up the comparatively dull, distracting, destructive indulgence of our porn.

(The best talk I’ve ever heard on the vice of porn and the virtue of purity is called Detox, by Jason Evert. Whether you struggle with this or not, you should get it and share it.)

Do you ever just get tired?

Do you ever get worn out by the day-to-day give-and-take in your life?

Do you grow weary of your work and the monotony of the daily grind?

Do you ever feel like you’re being asked to give too much? Are you never quite able to tackle your long list of todos?

At the end of each day, do you find yourself absolutely and completely spent?

If you said yes to any of these, you might be suffering from being a real, live human being. And you might be guilty of actually living your life to the fullest. Congratulations.

Modern Man wastes both his innocence and his guilt. His innocence is squandered by sin, which brings the guilt (and rightly so). But then he goes and squanders the guilt, too, by trying to cure it, forget it or die in it.

Genuine guilt is not a psychological complex in need of curing or forgetting. Neither should it be cause for chronic depression. Guilt is an opportunity for profit. It’s your soul offering a correction of course, like those lane bumper thingies at the bowling alley. It’s there to help you learn and profit from your mistake.

Even when we have a healthy acknowledgement of guilt, it’s easy to spend too much time lamenting our failures or sins and not enough time profiting from them. The greatest saints, on the other hand — often having most wildly lost their innocence — are the ones who learned to profit most from their guilt…from their sin.

Our initial reaction to sin – a first step – must be contrition. But it is there, in such remorse, that also begins the profit. It is there where God draws close and works his greatest miracles. It is there that we learn a wisdom and humility that innocence will never teach to imperfect creatures like us.

“Sin is more profitable than innocence. Innocence had made me arrogant, sin made me humble.” – St. Ambrose