Running the Race
I try to run at least a couple of times a week. Overall, I’m not a bad runner. Recently, as I was running my route a gentleman called out to me, praising me, “You really walk fast.” Actually, I’m not very good at running. My sentiments regarding running and Lent are very similar: I can’t wait until it’s over. Yet, the benefits of running are numerous: releasing of endorphins; time for thinking and regaining mental clarity; sweating out toxins and strengthening the heart and body muscles. I almost always feel a sense of satisfaction and personal achievement after running. However, running is challenging—at least for me. It is difficult, perhaps most difficult, just to start. I make all sorts of excuses. I have a toe cramp. I don’t look good in shorts. I’m too tired. If I do actually muster enough will power to begin my run, usually within the first half mile I have to fight off the tremendous temptation to turn back and return to the couch. There is also the challenge of overcoming the mental roadblocks. If I begin too think too far ahead, and consider the length of the route, I begin to give up mentally. I have to remain in the moment. Often, I’ll hear this little voice in my head saying, “Come on, Devin, you look ridiculous. You are such a wimp. Pick up the pace.” But if I move beyond my pace, I’ll tucker out before I reach the goal. A while back, I was a couple of miles into my route, running at what I considered a good steady pace. I felt great—as though my speed and strength were really improving. Just as I was considering how well I was doing, a stud runner blew past me, making me feel like I was standing in place. After he was a couple of meters beyond me, he thumped his chest, kissed his hand, and raised his hand to heaven, as if to say, “Yeah, I’m a stud—but all glory to you, God.” It was the kind of gesture that pro athletes make after scoring a touchdown, hitting a home run, or sinking the game-winning three-pointer. I was devastated. So what did I do? I picked up my pace, determined to keep up with Mr. Superstar. After approximately a quarter mile, I thought that I was hyperventilating, my chest was on fire, and my heart was about to burst. I finally stopped, bent over, attempted to collect myself and do everything in my power not to regurgitate.
Comparing Our Pace
The spiritual life of a father can be compared to my running experience. Most of us aren’t professional dads. We aren’t expert fathers—we are not the superstar Papa. We need training. As with running, it is difficult to simply begin, to try to be the engaged father that we are called to be. Where do we begin? And how do we begin? And if we do begin, we want it to be over with quickly. Are they eighteen yet? We try to get the kids to bed quickly, or cut short the apparently meaningless conversations. After all, we have too much on our minds: work problems, money problems, marital problems. But like running, entering and engaging the race of fatherhood gives us a personal sense of satisfaction. When we look our kids in the eyes and have meaningful conversations; when we actually take time to read the bedtime story; when we make time for family prayers; or when we handled a family dilemma with patience and meekness, we have a sense that we are doing God’s will. But we often make excuses. We are too tired. We have too much going on. “I can’t engage right now—the train of life is moving way too fast. I’ll get to the wife and kids later.” In addition to these challenges, we encounter perhaps one of the most insidious temptations to compare ourselves to other dads who apparently have it all together. Their kids don’t talk back, they laugh at their dad’s jokes—their wives even seem to like them. They’re like the Brady Bunch. Then we begin to compare the pace with which we are running the spiritual race to Joe Dad, and when we compare we always come up short. We begin to condemn ourselves. We tell ourselves to pick up the pace. So what do we do? We burden ourselves with the ideal: “I’ll win my kids love. I’ll be that superstar dad.” So we try to be sugar daddy by buying more toys, more clothes, more cars. We try to be dad the entertainer by taking our kids to more movies, more sports events, more activities. We try to be best friend dad, by trying to keep things light, fun, never too serious, never too “teachy.” We burden ourselves with being stimulating and entertaining, while not appearing to be fathering. But when we run at a pace that is not our own, we peter out. Ultimately we stop running, engaging, and rising up to the challenge of fatherhood. We give up, zone out, and turn to distractions and numbing agents that deliver us from the reality that we aren’t the father we desire to be. We turn to TV instead of conversing with the kids. We turn to porn instead of loving and engaging our wives. We turn to sleep instead of prayer. We endure Mass as though it were a dental exam. And all the while we resent the dad who blows past us while praising God as he excels in the race of fatherhood.
What is the point of all of this? Listen very closely. We all want to be magnetic, attractive husbands and dads who are respected, loved, and honored by our wives and children. Who doesn’t? But to be magnetic and attractive to our family we must be joyful, and to be joyful we must be thankful in all circumstances, and to be thankful in all circumstances we must trust God the Father. We must trust that no matter how difficult, challenging, boring, dull, or apparently meaningless or hopeless the circumstances of our fatherly vocation might appear to be, God has a plan, specifically for you, a plan to build you into a man of glory, a father of greatness—a glorious magnetic saint who manifests God’s divine glory to his wife, children, and the crumbling world around him. But the one thing that will undermine—if not destroy—your magnetic, attractive character, steal your joy and rob you of your thankfulness, is comparing yourself with Joe Dad. Listen closely: comparisons kill. Remember, you are not the other guy. God did not create you to be the other guy. He created you to be you. As a priest friend says often, “God doesn’t want another Padre Pio, St. Francis, or Mother Teresa. He wants you to become you.”
Weaknesses and Limitations
Comparisons kill. When we compare ourselves to others there are two basic consequences: We win in our own mind. We begin to think, “Man, I’m glad that I’m not like him—I’m so much better.” By comparing in this manner, we believe that we are the winner, but in reality we have fallen into pride and are actually the loser. We become arrogant, self-satisfied, self-righteous. God cannot manifest his glory through such pride and we end up losing God’s grace and power. On the other hand, when comparing ourselves with others we can feel as though we are the big loser. “Man, that guy has it all. I’m not even close to his level. His kids work at the homeless shelter. They actually obey him. His wife is beautiful—and she actually seems to enjoy being around him.” The thoughts are endless. When we compare in this way, we begin to despair, become discouraged, and become convinced that we are the loser. So what is the key to overcoming the temptation to compare? We must do our spiritual homework and realize that our true identity leads to an incredible divinely ordained destiny. We must ask the question and ask it often: “God, who am I? Who have you created me to be?” It is also okay to ask, “God, why did you make me like this?”—as long as we are able to end such a prayer with “But I trust that you know what you are doing.” You see, there are two basic types of men: Those who lament the person that God made them to be and ask, “Why am I so short, so tall, so bald, so hairy, so thin, so fat, so shy, so verbose? Why am I not better looking, healthier, richer?” And there are those who say, “God, why did you make me so good looking? I praise you for making me this great and everyone else should praise you for making me this great.” This type of man is initially attractive because they appear to be confident and self-assured and we tend to want to be around them because they have something we think we want. The man, however, who trusts that God has created him the way he did for a specific purpose, a unique mission, a divine plan, is the man who is magnetic. Such a man believes that his apparent drawbacks, limitations, or weaknesses can somehow glorify God. The true man trusts God, his Father, believing that God’s glory can be revealed—even in his weakness. God said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Humility—Understanding the Truth of Self
“Often we are internally humiliated by our own limitedness. But the just man, by means of receiving humiliations, accepts his own limitedness, which enables him to actually receive humility and humility enables him to rise in fortitude, trusting that God has a plan and such a man God will exalt in glory” (Joseph’s Way, p. 226). God loves to use our weaknesses, our apparent limitedness to manifest his strength, his unlimited power. Just the other day, a friend of mine shared with me his thoughts regarding my limitations in the context of public speaking: “You get too intense. Have you ever listened to your talks?” I responded, “Yes, I did, but it made me want to throw up.” He responded, “Then you know how I feel.” After we finished laughing I shared with him, “Yes, I agree, but isn’t it amazing how God can use a broken vessel to transmit his glory.” We must accept who we really are, embrace the person God has created us to be, and believe that precisely within our limitations God’s unlimited power can be revealed. Each of us has a unique identity, a unique role in God’s divine plan. Don’t worry about the guy who appears to be moving at a faster pace, accomplishing more, having a great life. Trust in God’s plan for you. As Sirach said in his sacred letter, “Call no man happy before his death, for by how he ends, a man is known” (Sir. 11:28). “To become strong we must admit our weakness and to become great fathers we must humble ourselves before the greatest Father,” (Joseph’s Way, p. 251), believing that he knows what he is doing , that he made us the way he did for a specific purpose. Remember, if we want to be magnetic, we must be joyful, and to be joyful we must be, as St. Paul says in his letter to the people of Thessolonica, “thankful in all circumstances” (see 1 Thess. 5:18), and to be thankful we must trust that the Father knows what he is doing, and made us the way he did to become manifestations of his glory. We must strive to overcome the temptation to be someone else. This is so important. Do you want to have a fulfilled, joyful life? Meet with God often, and ask him to reveal the person he has created you to be, while also asking Him for the courage to become that man. Let others feel the weight of the true you.
As St. Thomas said, humility is total self-awareness. True humility is knowing who you really are and who God is calling you to become. As Teresa of Avila said, “Humilitas est veritas”—“humility is truth.” “Humility is the foundation of all virtues and the basis of a life that is full of glory” (Joseph’s Way, p. 231).
Calling the Common to Greatness
Notice that Jesus when selecting his apostles did not develop a robust recruitment program, searching the coastlands with the purpose of identifying and selecting the perfect candidates. No. He went out into his own backyard and selected common men, limited, weak men from his own locale, and taught them to believe in him, to trust in him rather than in their weakness. It was these normal men who became the foundation of the world’s largest, most life-changing movement, which we call Christianity. Consider St. Joseph. God the Father called St. Joseph, with his own human limitations, to trust that God the Father would give him the ability, love, and resourcefulness to raise the Son of God to manhood. What God did for St. Joseph and the apostles he will also do for us. He has selected you and me from this backyard. He has selected us weak, limited, broken men, to make us saints, revelations of his glory—and he is making us great. But this transformation demands that we trust that he knows what he is doing—that he made us to be who we are for a specific purpose.
So, let us enter the race of fatherhood—but let us each run at our own pace. Don’t compare—just dare. Don’t compare yourself to other dads, simply dare to become the person God has created you to be. So how do we begin to do this? First, we need to set aside time with God daily, and confess to him the areas where we sense our limitedness, our weaknesses. Second, submit these weaknesses and limitations to God, asking either for the strength to accept the limitations that cannot be changed or for the strength to change those that can be changed. And third, express your trust in the Father: “I believe that you know what you are doing. Please, use me—despite my limitedness—for your glory. Do not let me die until I accomplish your will.” If we have trust such as this, we will become thankful sons, and being thankful sons we will become joyful, magnetic fathers.