Affectionately remembered as a “Cheerleader for Life”, Leo Buscaglia is the dynamic speaker featured on the thought-provoking video referenced above. In the late 60’s, he was a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California. Profoundly impacted by the suicide of one of his students, he started an audit course called “Love 1A” which later led to the inspiring published works and lectures – often embodying searing truths at the heart of their messages. I consider those truths “searing” because they are simple, straight forward, and resonate deep within. As such, they can truly serve as an impetus to better ourselves – if we allow them to.
Although I have not taken the opportunity yet to listen to all the talks in this series, “Born For Love”, I have already been affected by Buscaglia’s passionate message in the video showcased. The simple truth at the core of this lecture concerns something we all try to avoid but each must face in our turn – negative life events. The research on this that he referenced is from Richard Tedeschi at the University of North Carolina, and confirms that which we likely believe already: Negative occurrences in our lives affect us more deeply than positive ones, and can serve as “windows of opportunity for growth”. (That fits so nicely with my blog theme, doesn’t it?). Due to the drastic nature of negative events, people are “pulled off their usual path” that they have become entrenched in and begin to challenge their habitual operations. The research further reveals that events of a positive vein do not have the same effect, as they “do not change our basic notions of living and what life is all about to the degree that negative experience do.”
Beyond the psychological aspects of those statements, many forms of Religion lead us to these same conclusions – that suffering can become a teacher, instructing us in a new way, even a more abundant approach towards living. The Catholic belief of “Redemptive Suffering” proceeds one step further, in that our sufferings can be joined to Christ’s. Pope John Paul II was a courageous witness to suffering, not only “in seeing its mysterious purpose in the Providence of God” as Fr. Hardon ascribes , but also in leading by example through publicly embracing the acute suffering brought on by the Parkinson’s Disease that slowly deteriorated his body. Note that more of Fr. John Hardon’s reflections on JPII and Suffering can be found at http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Martyrs/Martyrs_006.htm
There is a passage in the book of Sirach that never fails to provide an eternal perspective on suffering. It is from Chapter 2, verses 4-6:
“Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you: make your ways straight, and hope in him.”
It reads so poetically, but speaking as someone getting her shorts scorched in “God’s Big Sizzler” right now, it can seem overbearing at times. No wonder the keys of patience, trust, and hope are presented in that short passage, so as to unlock the rewards of humble endurance. Being tested in the “furnace of humiliation” provides us an opportunity to access that which is of great worth in the Spiritual realm: It becomes the means by which the presence, quality, or genuineness of the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love are determined in our Spiritual Journey. How deep does our love run, how much are we willing to decrease that He may increase?
Even if I wrongly seem indignant upon receiving it from time to time, I appreciate the wisdom of my parents. The youngest of four and the only girl, I will forever be “their baby”. Sharing a similar spirituality, I find the advice of my Father is often like a dart striking the Bullseye. I’d like to say that I’ve only heard this one once, but spirituality is not the only thing we share (i.e. stubbornness). That is, “The very things that you are praying for, God is trying to do. But you are fighting it, because you want it done your way.” Suffering, or negative life events, is often one of God’s most effective ways of reaching us: Breaking through distractions, breaking us down, re-prioritizing our lives, revealing our weaknesses and exposing them so they can be exposed to the light and dealt with. For those with enough courage and dependence on grace, we can embrace the growth offered. As I type, I’m thinking of ways to crawl through my current window of opportunity and allow change to take hold. After all, I desire to become a better version of myself, no longer avoiding that which hinders me. I hope that you too will not allow your window to pass by, as life has a funny way of bringing us back to important lessons that we fail to grasp them the first or even fifteenth time around.
In one of her Podcasts last week, Joyce Meyer had some powerful truths that also spoke to me. Her friend reminded her of one of the definitions for brokenness, “to bring to birth”. That’s why it hurts so doggone much, because something of great value is trying to be born amidst our pain! The other helpful definition that she provided was for meekness, or “strength under control”. What a beautiful spin on that which we often confuse with being overly submissive or compliant to the point of being taken advantage of at times. Meyer also provided the cut-and-dry response to the advice that my Dad lovingly provides, that being, “If you really want God to use you, stop telling him how it has to be!” Preach it, sister. Joyce’s no-nonsense messages make me want to rush out and print up some goofy bumper stickers, such as “Suffering ain’t for Sissies”. Maybe my next post will be on catchy bumper stickers. I saw one that had me laughing alone in my car the other day, “God doesn’t believe in Atheists”. Word.
Back to Buscaglia, he raises some valid points worthy of reflection. Is there something drastic that has happened, whether recent or not, to “shake you out of your apathy”? If not, simply tune into the media as news casts and newspapers reveal occurrences each day that are meant to shake you up. Just one example, but I believe that this economic downturn presents us with countless opportunities to overcome apathy, reevaluate our priorities, and try and positively impact our families, our communities, our culture. It starts with us. If we avoid opening the windows to change in our own lives, with what validity can we advise our fellow man on how to progress along his own journey? As Gandhi stated, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”