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Reaching the Finish Line

Perseverance and fortitude are indispensable in our spiritual growth

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AckermanThere are certainly many endeavors in life that we would rather avoid. A trip to the dentist is one of them. The dentist’s office is never a relaxing time, and it forces one to endure discomfort and pain in hopes of becoming healthier and staving off future problems. Several years ago, I had to go to the dentist for a procedure, and while waiting in the reception area I witnessed a great exchange.

From one of the exam rooms, I heard a young boy scream, “No! I am done with this!”

Subsequently, a young man of about five years old came running out of the office and into the waiting room. He was still wearing his dental bib and was holding a dental tool that he must have snatched from an unsuspecting hygienist. His mother was not far behind.

“Come back here,” she exclaimed. “You better sit in that chair or we are not going to Chuck E. Cheese!”

“Who cares,” he retorted. “No pizza is worth this!”

I felt bad for the little guy but had to bury my face in a magazine to stifle my laughter. Eventually, through much persuasion, threats and a crisp $20 bill, they got him back in the chair, but it was no doubt a trying experience for all involved.

Our spiritual life can be, at times, not all that different from the experience of my young friend at the dentist. There are moments of our life that are indeed uncomfortable and painful; there are moments when we realize many situations are out of our control. Perhaps there are even people and events that we would rather avoid or run away from, but doing that is impossible and deleterious. We must, with God’s assistance, submit to his plan. He is the only one who can heal and strengthen us.

Psalm 34:7 reminds us of God’s presence in our needs: “This poor one cried out and the LORD heard, / and from all his distress he saved him.”

My little cousin taught me that, once, when he fell on the playground. “I felt like crying,” he said. “but I gave that pain to Jesus, and it actually made it better.”

I had the great fortune of attending a workshop on spirituality where one exercise that we engaged in was making a timeline of God’s presence in our lives. Initially, the activity seemed not very pertinent and worthwhile. A few attendees (including me) were even dismissive, thinking that this whole activity was a waste of time down memory lane. We were reminded though to take the activity seriously and reflect upon difficult moments when we struggled to find God’s presence or even ignored his call. This became very sobering and insightful; it became a stark reminder of how God worked through some bleak moments to demonstrate his will.

As one person said, holding back tears, “My life was really screwed up! Thank God for his mercy!”

Many years ago, some seminarians from our diocese decided to run a marathon in order to raise awareness and funds for vocations. I was invited to go along with it. I have heard that fewer than 1% of people will ever actually run a marathon, and I can certainly see why!

My body has never been so sore; my feet hurt, I broke a bone in my foot (during the race), and the day we ran was one of the worst rainstorms of the year. I remember thinking that this had to be the dumbest idea to which I ever agreed.

However, there was something enriching and fulfilling about it. The six of us who ran had a really good time, and we discovered something about ourselves. We learned about the importance of perseverance and the need to endure pain and struggle in order to achieve something greater. When we finally crossed the finish line on the point of collapsing, we felt such immense joy and relief that it is hard to describe that feeling.

One of our runners exclaimed, “It’s like reaching the Kingdom!” “Yes,” another runner said, “and luckily we did not die to get there.”

Perseverance and fortitude are indispensable in our spiritual growth, and they help us to maintain a healthy attitude in life, in prayer and even in the battle for healthier gums and teeth.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the parochial vicar at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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