Over fifty years ago, there was a man named Ken who was widely-known for his calm, peaceful approach to life; nothing ever seemed to bother or upset him. A friend named Arthur asked him, “Ken, what’s your secret?” In response, Ken got up, opened a desk drawer, took out a cardboard box, and said, “My secret, as you call it, is in this box. Back in the 1920s, I was a hotshot young broker on Wall Street; everything I touched turned to gold. I made and spent lots of money. I married my wife not because I really loved her, but because she helped my image and gave me some valuable business connections. Back then, I wasn’t really able to love anyone—not even myself. Then the stock market crashed in 1929, and I lost everything. Unable to cope, I went off to a beach cottage to be alone. After three days of heavy drinking, I decided to end it all by swimming out in the ocean as far as I could; the rest would take care of itself.” Ken continued, “There had been a heavy storm the night before, and when I walked down to the beach, I saw something in the sand, something white and sparkling, so I bent down to pick it up. It’s here in this box.” Ken removed the lid, and Arthur saw that the box contained an exquisitely beautiful, delicate seashell. Ken continued, “As I stood on the beach, holding the shell, I couldn’t understand how it had survived the storm. How could this fragile little thing have been scooped up by the waves and slammed onto the beach without breaking? Then suddenly the answer came to me. The shell had not fought against the sea and the waves; it simply floated along with them and accepted them as facts of life. This shell gave me a new insight into how to live. Instead of growing angry at life’s problems or feeling sorry for myself, I should simply accept them and float along with them—for all the anger and worry in the world won’t change anything. So when I left the beach, I took the shell with me, and I’ve had it ever since.” Arthur was fascinated by this story, and asked, “What’s the shell called?” Ken smiled and said, “It’s called an Angel’s Wing” (Mark J. Link, S.J., Illustrated Sunday Homilies, Year A, Series II, p. 63). Looking for the simple beauty and wonder of life does indeed make it easier for us to turn to God in a spirit of trust and self-surrender, and thus experience His Fatherly care for us.
In the Gospel of Matthew (6:24-34), Jesus refers to very simple, everyday things such as wildflowers and birds as a reminder that God knows us, loves us, and is willing to care for us, if only we seek to respond to Him in a loving and trusting way. As Our Lord says, “Your heavenly Father knows [what you need] . . . . Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” This idea echoes the message from the Prophet Isaiah (49:14-15), in which the Lord promises that He will never forget or abandon any of His children, for His love for us is even greater than a mother’s love for the child of her womb. Indeed, I suspect much of the unhappiness in the world today comes from people’s inability to comprehend or believe in how much they are truly loved by God, and from their unwillingness to trust in His care for them.
Once upon a time there was an elderly widow who depended completely on her two sons to support her from what they earned from their simple businesses. One son sold umbrellas; the other sold hand-held fans, which people used to cool themselves on hot days. The widow constantly worried about how they were doing; if she saw it was going to be a rainy day, she fretted that the one son wouldn’t be able to sell any fans, and if it was a sunny day, she was upset that the other son wouldn’t sell any umbrellas. For this reason, she was constantly miserable—until one day a friend told her, “Why, you’ve got it all wrong, my dear. If the sun is shining, people will buy fans; if it’s raining, they’ll buy umbrellas. You live off both your sons, and there will always be one of them having a successful day—so you can’t lose!” The widow suddenly recognized and accepted the truth of her situation, and with this change in perspective, she became happy and content for the rest of her life (Brian Cavanagh, The Sower’s Seeds, p. 46).
I’ve always liked the observation by Abraham Lincoln that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be, and this insight certainly fits in with the message of the readings for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In particular, St. Paul (1 For 4:1-5) says that the Lord “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.” However, there’s also a certain sense in which we ourselves demonstrate the motives or beliefs we carry deep within us. If we’re always worrying or complaining or going about in a miserable mood, we’re suggesting to the world that we don’t really believe in the Good News of salvation, and that we doubt God’s personal care for us. If instead we try to be hopeful and optimistic, and refuse to let life’s problems overwhelm us, we’re proclaiming that God is indeed with us and that His promises can be trusted. The choice is ours—and if we need still further clarification, we might ask ourselves three simple questions: Which approach to life is likelier to make us happy? Which approach is better suited to preparing us for eternal life in Heaven? Which approach is more likely to attract other people and help them believe in and accept the Gospel?
Much of the time life isn’t easy, and there are people who have to endure incredible suffering, bear terrible burdens, or cope with unimaginable problems or injustices—and yet still manage to radiate great inner peace and see the beauty and wonder of life. This is more than just having a naturally cheery disposition; it comes from learning to trust and to surrender oneself into God’s hands. If this seems difficult to do, or you just don’t know how to do it, simply pray to God in a humble and trusting manner, asking Him to take over your life, to guide you in all your decisions, and to help you in all your needs. He is eager to bless us and care for us, and He also sends us the angels and saints—and above all, the Virgin Mary—to assist us and to intercede on our behalf. We should never be afraid to pray for heavenly assistance, especially when we’re hurting or suffering or frightened or upset or confused. As Jesus says, if we’re seeking to know and do God’s will, we’re entitled to ask Him for whatever we need—and He will hear and respond to such a prayer with great favor. As Ken discovered on a beach many years ago, changing our perspective can change the course of our lives. This is a simple but powerful truth Jesus wants all His followers to take to heart—for living in such a spirit will help us find true happiness, while also giving great honor and praise to our Heavenly Father.