As first-world people, I believe we have a problem with being patient and persevering when things get hard. In a consumeristic and fast-food world, we want things immediately and get irritated when we have to wait too long. Heck, so many people are “annoyed” and expressed their “frustrations” when their Amazon or online-order packages arrived later than the typical two to three days period! Yet, what we often forget that there is no such thing as an easy, effortless, and low-commitment gain. All things that are effective, lasting, and worthwhile require sacrifices, hard works, and perseverance! Imagine, if that is the expected case for our humanistic standards and matters, how much more willingness and fervent desire we will need when we deal with spiritual conversion, habit, and transformation.
Many of you know that I have been struggling to lose weight. Perhaps my journey has become a motivation and inspiration for many people, but at the end of the day, only a few are willing to make the commitment to the lifestyle change. Believe me, I was one of them, too! Like many people, I myself read up on different types of diet in the past. I even purchased several different types of diet pills or supplemental aids, but nothing really worked in the long run because I kept going back to my old way, or because I did not try my best to actually lose weight and work hard to achieve the needed result. I failed in the past because I was either mixing different styles and methodologies in order to make something my own or only want to do things to a certain point so that I do not have to be too uncomfortable in my diet. I failed because I picked and chose things that are appealing, easy, or seem to be beneficial for me. For some reason, I thought I know myself better instead of being pure and obedient to the instructions of each style, especially its scientific data and research. Furthermore, I gave up too easily when I did not see the effective results that I would have liked, when it gets too hard and I wanted to eat the things that I like, or no longer cared to be disciplined and focused on what was needed.
None of the pills or supplements worked in the long run because I was intaking what was not good for me. I arrogantly thought that when I took those things, they should have worked, except to see that I have changed nothing in my life to seriously lose weight! Please let me be honest, there is no such thing as being healthy and able to get to do anything and eat everything we want. Furthermore, I am not here to shame, guilt, or unrealistically tell you that everything is good and great. It is not! Every day is a struggle, and at times, a painful one, too.
Many days, I do not want to wake up early to begin my 0530 runs, which are often followed by some personal cardiovascular exercises. I dislike the alarm going off when it is still dark and chilly outside. I do not enjoy running. Perhaps many people find it cathartic and energetic, I just find it a disciplinary matter that I have to push myself to do each and every day. On top of the physical exercise, being careful with what I eat and having to eat less (than what my body can burn that day) is very hard. Not only that I get tired and wearisome, but I also dislike some of the things I have to choose to eat instead of the things I would have liked. I have to say no to a lot of my parishioners and their offerings because those foods are not good for my weight-loss goal at this moment! It personally breaks my heart when I have to say no to people’s goodness and not being able to enjoy the full conviviality that comes with sharing food and eating with people.
Yet, I know that I need to keep up with my discipline, not only for the weight loss, but also for my long-term health as well. I also know that once I reach my goal, I cannot go on like the past, else I will regain as much (if not, more) as I have lost. This has to be a personal, willing, and committed lifestyle change for the better, else I will end up worst because of my own carelessness or arrogance, thinking that somehow I have made it. I know that it is not easy, and it is very challenging, but I can sense it within my soul that this was needed for me.
If what I have described to you on a physical and human level sound relatable, imagine the challenges that exist for our spiritual journey as well! Too oftentimes, we want our spiritual life to be easy and as we liked it to be. Nevertheless, we often end up frustrated, resentful, angry, or unhappy because we have never changed our lives in a personal and loving way. We might be focused for a short while, but we immediately go back to what we want when the matters of this world tempt, distract, and make us lose focus on things that really mattered. The spiritual life requires much more discipline, focus, and commitment because the temptations are real, the Devil and his minions are trying their hardest to attack us, and our will is weak. That is why St. Ignatius of Loyola and many saints call our personal acts of sacrifices, growth, and conversion journey as spiritual exercises.
We know that our body is weak, and that is why our willingness to discipline, align, and keep it focused on spiritual matters is so important. Acts of loving mortifications, sacrifices, and offerings, when put into practice with genuine, humble, and personal love, are acts of dying to one’s self so that God can be our all in all! For those who think that this is somehow extreme and outrageous, we see athletes do it all the time by choosing to discipline themselves, giving up what is not good and not necessary in order to focus on their ultimate goal. If we can imagine the level of dedication that those athletes have just to achieve an earthly goal or prize, imagine the spiritual sacrifices that are able to transform us for matters that are eternal and life-giving when we become more conformed to the love of God in our lives. When we allow ourselves to be aligned to eternal and transcendental values in following His commandments, teachings, and way of life, our hearts are fixated on the Almighty instead of being easily agitated by the things of this world. Of course, we will definitely be tempted and persuaded from time to time, but we can learn to say no to lesser things as a yes to the greater good and goal of heaven!
And to be honest with you, I think spiritual exercises, disciplines, and ways of life are much harder than physical ones. Not only it requires a lot of personal commitment, willingness, sacrifices, endurance, and perseverance, it also requires a lot of humility and trust in the Lord. Spiritual struggles, temptations, and battles are hard because we are not simply fighting with foods, drinks, or human means, but also with our own selves and the evil spiritual forces that tempt, lie, and deter us from focusing on God and the things that give us life. Evil spirits are always around us, watching and studying us, waiting for the right moment when we are weak, arrogant, or lose focus to attack and tempt us with lies, apparent vanities, benefits, or pleasures. We can intake those things and they will make us feel “satisfied” for a short moment, but these empty matters will always leave a void and emptiness deep from within. The things of this world are only temporary and fleeting because they have no substance and eternal. Therefore, it is necessary to rise above the things that come and go in order to focus on the things that truly give us life, that come from God, substantial and everlasting.
I am not here to lecture or to say that I have it all figured out, that things are easy, and I can overcome anything. I still struggle with my weight loss journey as I am with my spiritual life. The temptations are there, and I get very tempted at times, too. However, I just have to be honest with myself and recall the real reason why I am focusing on my goal. I am still a work in progress, and I am weak. I am impatient and want things my way at times, too. Nevertheless, I come to recognize that I am not alone because I could never do it alone. Without His loving grace and the necessary supports around me, I would have never made it. Therefore, I know that who I am not my own island nor of my own efforts, my journey and life of faith are supported by the Church and those who are around me. Nevertheless, most important of all, I am nothing without God.
To be honest, we might achieve, feel good, and attain our goal in a short time. That is good because it would show that we have determination. Nevertheless, our life of faith and real transformation is not just for a temporary moment or short-term matters, it is a long journey of perseverance, discipline, focus, and trust in the Almighty, those who matter, and people who actually support, lift us up, and give us life. True care of the body is not only for physical health and betterment but also of the soul for eternal and everlasting life with God. So, I would like to encourage you to keep focus, keep trying, and do our best to keep our eyes on the final goal — the heavenly homeland — which requires a life-long journey of discipleship to attain the everlasting crown of heaven. Truly, there is no greater joy in knowing, loving, and following Christ Jesus and give our lives to Him, follow His footsteps, and willing to do everything to be faithful to Him. The greatest achievement, aim, honor, and name that we can ever bear is to be known as Christians, as disciples of Christ, as we dare to love Him, follow His commandments, and to walk toward the heavenly homeland. There is no greater joy than to leave, trade, and let go of everything to attain the One love that gives us eternal life — the love of God our Father in Christ Jesus through the power and working of the Holy Spirit.