One of the joys in men’s ministry, and I imagine the same is true for women’s ministry, is learning that I am not so alone in my challenges. Specifically, a lot of guys my age struggle to balance job, faith, family and financial demands while recalling when life was not so troubled and frenetic. Mid-life crisis? I doubt it. I do not have a desire for a sports car as much as going off-road in a 4×4.
Several perceived setbacks in my career keep me up at night. It did not take much to reignite my inner burn at the injustices I perceived. Bad management and “not drinking the Kool-Aid” were always on my mind. For the last decade, I have found myself being successful financially while getting more and more angry. It had to stop. It was killing me and not affecting those I was mad at. The burn began affecting relationships. I saw the downward spiral and wanted to get off. Reaching for the “brass ring” was no longer enticing.
The obvious solution, people would tell me, was to “go get another job.” How often do we fall into the trap of making a “snap response” and propose a solution which really does not help? As people advance to higher salary grades in their profession, jumping to other jobs becomes more and more constrained. Most importantly to me, I had kids in junior high through college. I did not want to disturb their world simply because of the challenges I had in mine.
Interestingly, being at an age where I can effectively reflect on my dad, I can recall not understanding as a teenager that he was going through the same thing. Looking back, I understand him today more than ever. He is greater in my eyes than ever before. Dad got down, but never gave up the fight. Dad never gave up his values and remains the standard that I want to meet. Dad warned me that I would have good and bad managers. In business, Dad got burned in later years. Mom would comment on this and let the burn they felt slip in conversations. Dad did not. Dad wore his big boy pants well.
For me, I tried to justify my emotions as no longer being motivated by money and had moved to another level on Maslow’s triangle. I did not default to reflecting on what my dad’s response would be. No, I was too caught up in “me” and my delusions of what it was to be a good family provider. One of the names for Satan is “the Accuser.” Society has embraced following Satan’s lead in this. So did I. I was drinking the Kool-Aid after all and “accusing” everyone in sight.
Then came Ignatius.
Knowing that I had to do something about my situation, I went on a retreat given by Miles Christi priests. I did not know much about the Ignatian Spirituality topic of this retreat, but thought it might be a good experience. Besides, my wife always says I am always nicer after I return from a retreat. At least this would be a benefit for everyone.
Ignatius was a man I could relate too. A soldier who embraced vanity and the ladies. He could be a man with a temper. Then, a man who after getting knocked on his butt became a man who looked for a better way. What hit me that weekend was the introduction to Ignatius’ meditation on the Kingdom of God.
As a simplification, consider the world most of us live in. We live in a society where the goal is to satisfy “my” desires, “my” goals, “my” wants. We can “have it all.” The key word is “my.” It is all about me. An attack on this kingdom, my kingdom, draws ire as it is an attack upon me personally and my perceived reality.
Living in this world blinds us. People do not understand our pain for the hurt is not theirs – it is mine. They see the burn, but not the source. The system that damaged me did not align with “my” system. “My” plans have been diverted without “my” permission as only I rule over “my” desires.
Alternatively, there is the Heavenly Kingdom. This is the eternal Kingdom of God to where our thoughts, words and desires should be focused. When focusing on my kingdom, I lose sight of God’s. Worse yet, I delude myself of being the “god” of my realm. It is about my body.
Being at this retreat and for the first time, the Holy Spirit got through my thick skull as I discerned how I was too focused on my career, my success, my.., my…, my…. Long before this retreat a priest once told me that to address the burn I had to “give up the hate.” The burn was hurting me and not my target. Yet, I never could give up the burn – I never had the tools to do so until I met St. Ignatius. Discerning my situation, it became easy to see it was my ego and my focus on the “kingdom of Greg” that was the source of the burn. My focus had to change. All this time I went to the sacraments, prayed… followed what I thought a good Catholic would do. Yet, I lived for the kingdom of Greg and not the Kingdom of God. I forgave in my head, but this forgiveness was blocked from reaching my heart due to the residual burn that kept haunting me and coming to the surface. I deceived myself in thinking that I had buried it deep enough within me.
Ignatius taught me to look at the burn. Why was I so angry? Where is the burn coming from?
Embarrassingly, I admit the source: my ego. Not always, but approximately 99.99% of the time my burn was the result of my ego being bruised rather than a true hurt. That is not to say an unjust action did not occur. It is to say that my reaction to it was a response coming from my ego being bruised. My high school football coach long ago told me to get up and back in the game after being knocked down. Jesus said to “turn the other cheek” and move on. It is intellectually easy to say, “deal with it and move on.” Yet, I could not “move on” for I remained chained to my bruised ego without even knowing it. This residual burn stopped my freedom to move on.
It was only by realizing this source of my burn that I began to let the burn go. Once I took the time to discern that the burn was more ego than inflicted pain, I had the tool I finally needed to let go and truly begin recovery. Note the word “begin.” My spiritual mentor, Fr. Jim, would tell me that my main issue was “not praying my emotions.” Still, one has to recognize the emotion in order to address it. Recognizing it allowed me to ask Jesus to help me let the emotion go. As a sinner, I do not forgive easily. I am still open the persuasion of society. However, God does forgive freely and, I can ask for his assistance in this. God will respond. We just have to ask.
I rejoiced. While it has taken me years to get to this point, I feel for the first time in my adulthood that I have the path to follow and the tools I need to apply. A great start. Yet, with Monday’s joy can come a new headache to face on Tuesday. Life does not stop. We can get off the merry-go-round, but life does not stop. How I decide to face the next burn is up to me.
I am getting better at applying the tools of Ignatian Spirituality against “me.” Now I need my default to be using them during the conflict and not afterwards.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.