As I write this article, I will turn forty years old in ten days. You would think with four decades of life on this earth under my belt that I’d have a lot of wisdom to impart, but the following will have to do anyway.
1) It doesn’t matter how you start—it’s how you finish. Because he had run from God for many years, and only later in life did he enter the Catholic Church, St. Augustine lamented to God: “Late have I loved thee.” Although we all do it in different ways, we’ve all loved God late. But the hope of sinners is that God is not looking at the lateness; He’s looking at the love.
2) Forgiveness is a lifelong process. Whenever I think of someone who has crossed me or done or said something mean to me (either in reality or in my imagination), I get out a sheet of paper and write down 10 things about him that are good. I might list things like: “God loves him” and “He says the Rosary,”or “He works hard to provide for his children.” By the time I get to the sixth or seventh attribute, I begin to realize how stupid I have been to have not forgiven him sooner. By the way, I’ve never finished a list. I’ve never needed to finish one. I also pray for something else. Other people may have had to make a list about me, and I ask God that they will have a special grace to forgive me.
3) If you want to have a better marriage, love Jesus more. Since I was married when I was 21, I’ve spent roughly half my life married. And I know it sounds strange, but I don’t remember clearly what it feels like to not be married. Actually, I may remember what it’s like, but I just don’t want to remember. A life without Lisa is too difficult to ponder.
In college, after Lisa broke up with me (all together, I think she broke up with me three times), a friend tried to console me by saying that “there are other fish in the sea.” I told him, “You don’t understand. You don’t get over Lisa McGuire.” And I wouldn’t have. The fact that I find Lisa freakishly beautiful is not what makes this marriage work. It’s the simplicity of her love of Jesus, and not the beauty of her face, that has been a main ingredient of our marriage. How do you thank someone who has taught you to love Jesus more completely?
Good marriages don’t mean you never argue, or that your spouse always looks good. (If it did, Lisa would have left me years ago. There’s a reason I don’t include a picture with these columns.) Good marriages indicate that even though two strong wills both want something different, each spouse recognizes a third party that each defers to: Jesus. When my spiritual life is going well, my marriage is going well. I’m guessing this applies to almost everyone.
4) Children are expensive, but the payoff is massive. As a parent who is currently paying for three children simultaneously in orthodontics, let’s stop trying to dance around the fact that having children is expensive. Don’t let that ruin your day or influence you too much. A lot of people put off having children because they need to invest for the future. Let me tell you something: having children is investing for the future. The sooner the world learns that, the better off it will be.
5) Children are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. This morning, before I left for work, it began to snow for the first time of the season. In my house, “snow” is known as a four-letter-word. I have a litany of reasons not to like the powdery substance, not the least of which is that it has to be cold to snow. (“Cold” is another four-letter-word.) As my mind raced with reasons to be depressed, I heard seven-year-old Dominica from upstairs gleefully announce: “It’s snowing.” The wonders of God’s creation are obvious in the heart of a little girl. She’s the smart one.
6) God never quits. Author Francis Thompson wrote a poem called “The Hound of Heaven” in which he describes God as a loving Being who constantly pursues those He has created. Even when we run from God, God never gives up the search. Thompson writes:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears.
I have run from God many times through sin or lack of trust. We all have. But God never ran away from me—and He never ran away from you either. He has been with us all along, patiently waiting for us to accept His love. As I begin my fifth decade on earth, my prayer is that I stop running.
7) Kindness is the solution. I have just finished writing a book about economics from a Catholic perspective. By the grace of God, it should be out sometime in 2011. In this book, I argue that the main problem of economics is envy, which is defined as “sorrow for another’s good.” I further argue that the solution to economics is kindness, which could be defined as the “joy for another’s good.” Kindness is never wrong, but rarely practiced, at least not by me. This year, pick ten random acts of kindness to practice, and make them habits. Let me start you off with a couple ideas. First, the next time you’re in the drive-through at a fast-food restaurant, when you pay for your food, also pay for the person in the car behind you. They’ll talk about it for weeks. As Willy Wonka reminded us, kind deeds shine in a weary world. Second, say a Hail Mary for one stranger every day. It might be the first time that anyone has ever asked for Mary’s intercession for that person in his entire life. Think about that.
8 ) Home-schooling means having a conversation with your child, and that’s a pretty neat thing. It might be a twelve-year-old conversation, and it might be about geography and history, but it’s a conversation nevertheless. By the way, for those of you having a hard time home-schooling, remember that it was once much more difficult for parents, and much more awkward for their kids. There is a song called “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” I’m proud of the fact that I was home schooling when home schooling wasn’t cool.
9) Every day is a chance to love God more. The rest of my life may have dramatic moments of loving God, but most moments will probably occur in the form of small things, such as turning the pages of a book, playing Scrabble with my kids, or watching snow fall.
10) I am the luckiest man alive. Recently, it’s with particular understanding that I view Lou Gehrig’s comment about being the luckiest man alive. We all should feel like that, and I’m ashamed for times I haven’t. God came down from heaven and died on a cross for me because He loves me. The doubt we sometimes have springs from our inability to see things clearly, and to view them as a puzzle. When I was a little boy, my mom used to buy me puzzles. I remember opening the boxes and seeing various pieces which, by themselves, made very little sense. I would struggle to find the piece that fit into another. It takes patience to build a puzzle, along with the faith that the right pieces are in the box. One by one, I would patiently put the pieces together until the magical moment when I’d finally begin to recognize the picture that I had been assembling. From that point on, putting the puzzle together was easy—the pieces just become easier to find. There were times I doubted, but after forty years, the puzzle is becoming clearer to me. The times that were the hardest—the ones that seemed least likely to fit—were the times that made the puzzle great.
After forty years, I have never been surer of my unworthiness to be with God, and never more sure of God’s Holy Will to save my soul. Everything has aligned so perfectly: the family to which I was born into, my parents, the girl I married, the place I live, the friends that God put in my path, my children who constantly remind me of God’s love and mercy, and the priests I have known. Everyone’s path has been different, but everyone’s path is meant to lead to God.