I recently co-directed a weekend retreat for engaged couples. There must have been twenty of them and all young, self confident and full of the knowledge necessary to rule the universe ….and sustain a happy marriage. Remember that moment? You must. That glorious, deluded time when you actually believed you knew better than anyone how the world should be operating. That blissful clarity regarding finances, relationships, style, human interaction, child rearing and God. What a wonderful time when you knew exactly what your parents should be doing, wearing, saying and how they should be voting. And not just parents but every other being on the planet earth. Sometimes it happens imperceptibly and occasionally it’s a battering ram but life has a way of humbling us until the wretched day arrives when your not really sure about whether you should be eating your breakfast cereal much less how President Obama is running the United States!
One of the most difficult concepts to communicate to younger generations is how life changes us. Money or lack of it alters our everyday existence. Try explaining to a couple who are twenty-five that if you get hurt and spend every day in pain this reality changes your personality. Having a child who is challenged in some way shifts everything and begins to dictate who your friends are and how your discretionary income is spent. Sickness, depression, addiction or the death of a family member can knock the wind out of us in such a devastating way that our self-confidence is shaken and everything previously focused becomes blurred and unsteady.
The searing truth is we are all becoming something. That cranky next-door neighbor did not pop out of the womb in a bad mood (well….maybe He did) undoubtedly his experience of living ground away his optimism and good will. Without realizing it he found himself day by day adopting a sour attitude until it became ingrained into his personality. In my tradition we have a spiritual exercise called “Examination of Conscience.” This is the practice of reviewing our behavior and choices with the desire of removing those pesky elements that keep us from becoming the loving and generous people God intended. I cannot help but wonder if before sleep we all asked ourselves the question: what am I becoming? If the mere pondering of that query could begin to redirect hostility, bitterness and spite? If we were aware that every encounter, each success and setback is shaping and molding us, would we not become more attuned to what we hold onto and what we discard? Because for me, no matter what happens, I want to keep laughing, singing, praying, dreaming and creating till the day they put me in the earth. And you? What are you becoming?Examination of Conscience: a prayerful review of one’s own life on the basis of gospel values. In the history of the Church, an examination of conscience has been part of spirituality from the earliest centuries. After Vatican II the examination of conscience, in the renewed rite of Penance, is presented as a prayerful consideration of one’s past, but with a major focus on the future. Richard Mcbrien ~ Encyclopedia of Catholicism