Updated: Dec 14, 2020
In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey gives the very first habit for effectiveness as “Be Proactive!” While giving a speech in Sacramento a few years back, this speaker referenced Eleanor Roosevelt as saying, “No one can hurt you without your consent.” Suddenly, a woman in the audience stood up in the middle of his presentation and started talking excitedly. Covey let her finish, then approached the woman after the talk to find out what was the matter. Here’s the woman’s response:
I’m a full-time nurse to the most miserable, ungrateful man you can possibly imagine. Nothing I do is good enough for him. He never expresses appreciation; he hardly even acknowledges me. He constantly harps at me and finds fault with everything I do. This man has made my life miserable and I often take my frustration out on my family. The other nurses feel the same way. We almost pray for his demise. And for you to have the gall to stand up there and suggest that nothing can hurt me, that no one can hurt me without my consent, and that I have chosen my own emotional life of being miserable – well, there was just no way I could buy into that. But I kept thinking about it. I really went inside myself and began to ask, ‘Do I have the power to choose my response?’ When I finally realized that I do have the power, when I swallowed that bitter pill and realized that I could choose not to be miserable. At that moment I stood up. I felt as though I was let out of San Quentin. I wanted to yell to the whole world, ‘I am free! I am let out of prison! No longer am I going to be controlled by the treatment of some person.
The beginning of Advent can be a great time to initiate our freedom like this lady, to be proactive in our faith and the Christian journey. The prophet Isaiah captures the depravity of the people who abandon God for things that negate their beliefs. He laments that humanity has become sinful and perverse, unclean, and has withered like leaves. This angered God, hence, he let the people of Isaiah’s time suffer. This was the experience of the Israelites in their Babylonian captivity. Still, the people could not survive without coming back to God, their redeemer, and Lord. The prophet exclaims, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the works of your hands.” And for Saint Paul, “God is faithful,” all that is required from us is, as the gatekeeper, to be on the watch.
Here in the parish, we are starting the five days’ advent retreat as a way of beginning the great journey that ushers us into Christmas, a way to remind each other to keep vigil and be watchful. The gospel says today, “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.” This coming might be any time, morning, evening, night, midnight, any time. But we do not know that it is real. Christmas helps us to prepare for the Great Second Coming of Christ. For Christmas, we certainly shop, set up our Christmas trees, and get physically ready. But our souls are searching for Christ. Our souls need freedom and liberation.
Just last week, a friend called me from Nigeria and was crying. She had lost five of her very close friends, all ladies with children in a fatal accident. These ladies were going to the wedding of one of their friend’s daughters. As they landed at the airport, they booked a coaster bus to take them to their hotel from where they will leave for the wedding the following morning. It was on this short journey that a trailer crashed into them and crushed these five mothers. Of course, none of them saw that coming. Their families and friends have been thrown into mourning since then. Very sad!
The voice of the Church at this time continues to invite us to an awareness of the coming of Christ and the need to stay vigilant for Him. This year can be likened to the miserable, ungrateful man in the Covey’s story above and we like the nurse who is running crazy and frustrated. We seem to be praying for the demise of 2020 because it has brought more sorrows than joy. That’s why you see people wearing face masks with the inscription, “2020: Very Bad, Would Not Recommend!” Still, we can take our destinies into our hands. Rather than stay in a constant nagging, miserable state, the key is to be proactive, to understand that God is faithful and wants you back in the relationship.
Just ask yourself the question at the beginning of this advent, how would I be watchful? Even though this year has been characteristically different with the COVID 19, the lockdown, the restrictions, and all the losses that have happened this year, we can beat all these by reaffirming our faith and our hope in Christ Jesus. So, can you make a different type of spiritual preparation as well? Can you adjust your style this year? Can you shop more for the spiritual nourishment and feed your soul? Can you take advantage of retreats, prayer opportunities, and hear God speaking directly to your heart? A good Advent preparation will make us exclaim like that woman, “I wanted to yell to the whole world, ‘I am free! I am let out of prison!” Let us be watchful. Let us be at alert. Let us be proactive.
And may the grace and peace of Christ be with us. Amen.