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Seize the day

First slide

Now. Do it.

Before things in your life ramp up, grab a pen and paper or your laptop, pour your drink of choice, settle into your favorite chair, and reflect: "Did God meet me in my struggles over the past year? Did he bring good from my crosses? What is my takeaway? How will I be changed for the better?"

In his own way, Tom Hanks recently examined the past year and decided that what mattered most was "vitality, community, family and purpose." And yet, he admits that he often turned away from all of that to play solitaire. "Our time is limited and finite," he concludes. "Solitaire squanders what is precious. Don’t ever play solitaire again."

That’s Hanks, but what have you concluded about this season of your life? Going forward, what will change for you?

A few years ago, I had a health scare that landed me in a 14-month labyrinth of tests and hospitalizations. The air in those days was thick with encounters, discoveries, miracles and grace. I swore that if I got out, things would never be the same. But within months of my reentry, I found myself backsliding into familiar patterns of selfishness, busyness and escape. As I did, I felt like I was betraying what I had just survived. 

"There is only one thing that I dread, not to be worthy of my sufferings" Dostoevsky wrote.

In the Scriptures, the Jewish people — our elder brethren in faith and no strangers to suffering — erected "ebenezers," literally "stones of help," at places where the Lord had brought them through to victory. They didn’t run off to the next battle without pausing, without building a tangible reminder of their encounter with the Lord and how he had changed their struggles into a win.

Perhaps now is the time to raise our ebenezers to commemorate the struggle of the past year. Early in the pandemic, Pope Francis invited us to steel ourselves for the work of sifting, encounter and close-up combat with our demons. He called us "to choose what matters and what passes away … to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others." 

During this past year, you may have experienced hardship — the loss of a loved one, trials at work and more, while your next-door neighbor happily binged on Netflix and watched his stock portfolio soar to new highs. Don’t worry about him or anyone else. Yes, your hardship was an encounter with darkness, but it was also an opportunity to meet the Lord and let him help you to victory. Now, it’s time to exult a little and raise your ebenezer.

Maybe you will choose not to post about your triumph on Facebook. Good. Like the dissident writers under Soviet totalitarianism, maybe you’ll be content to "pisat’ v stol" — to "write for the drawer." You can put it in a drawer or file next to your will, because this has been a year to contemplate last things and what we will leave behind.   

If you elect not to do this now, fair enough. After all, maybe you’re that person with the steel-trap memory who — a decade or two from now — will recall effortlessly how the Lord was present and what you learned. But be careful that time doesn’t steal your victory and send you back to square one.

"Time is either real time, in which man encounters God and accepts his will, or it is unreal time, lost and corrupted," wrote theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. He goes on to describe this unreal time as "an unredeemed promise, a space full of nothing, duration leading nowhere."

Near the end of my health saga and journey through this "real time" of encounters, I suddenly was discharged early from one hospital stay. My wife was far away — shuttling our kids to the next extracurricular — and I had plenty of time on a bench out front of the hospital to look up at the sky. It was spring. New life was in the air. A thrush was singing in the nearby bushes. "Cured," in the words of Robert Lowell, "I was frizzled, stale and small."

And I was alive — in real time, no less. I had met the resurrected Lord — even his Eucharistic body—deep within the bowels of the building behind me. I wanted to be worthy of his suffering. I could no longer settle for unreal time.

Unreal time squanders what is precious. Don’t ever settle for unreal time again.  

Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, Ever, of trinityhousecommunity.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021