Last weekend, Georgette and I attended two First Holy Communion Masses. The first Mass was on Saturday, and the second was on Sunday. One of the most refreshing experiences for me is to witness young, innocent seven-year-old children receiving our Lord for the first time. At that age, children are still bursting with energy, enthusiasm, and hope for the future, and they have not yet been infected with the poisons of cynicism and resentment.
After the Sunday Mass, I said hello to a cousin who had also attended the Mass. My cousin is in his mid-50s. Out of habit, I opened my conversation with him by asking, “How have you been?” His answer was the same answer that he gave me the last time I saw him: “I’m tired.” “What do you mean you’re tired? You need to be more like those children over there, full of energy and excitement about life!” I said, as I pointed to the first communicants who were standing together at the altar, posing for a picture.
My cousin didn’t find my comment very amusing. He didn’t even crack a smile. Instead, he said, “Yea, it would be nice to be young again, but I really am tired.” He followed up by asking me the same question I asked him: “How have you been doing?” I answered that I’ve been doing well. As I looked at him, it occurred to me that he really did look tired and worn out.
We talked for a while about the economy and our businesses. His wife ended our conversation when she walked over and reminded him that they needed to get going so they could join their other family members for a party. We agreed that we would get together soon for breakfast or lunch to catch up on what’s been going on in our lives.
Later that day when I was thinking about my cousin’s response to my initial question, I couldn’t help but think about how our Lord admonished us to be like children: “He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18:2-4.
We commonly understand our Lord’s statement to mean that we are expected to be humble and have the same level of trust and faith in God that children have in their parents. But does our Lord expect us to emulate any other qualities of a child, such as the child’s enthusiasm, energy level, and hope for the future?
What if I were to tell you that regardless of their ages, the saints all possessed the enthusiasm, energy level, and hope for the future that we customarily see in children?
If you were to read a biography of Saint John Paul II, Saint Maximillian Kolbe, Saint Padre Pio, or any other saint, you would find that they all possessed the qualities that innocent children possess: humility, trust, faith, enthusiasm, hope, and high levels of energy.
When Mother Teresa was still alive, I read an article about her that was written by a female reporter who followed her around for several days. In the article, the reporter marveled at how Mother Teresa never seemed to get tired. At the end of each day, the reporter was exhausted, while Mother Teresa, who was more than twice the age of the reporter, appeared to be as fresh as she was when they started the day.
In the late 1980s, Georgette and I joined a local health club and started working out together a couple of times a week. For the first 20 minutes of each workout, we exercised together on Stairmaster machines that were positioned next to each other. If you’re not familiar with how a Stairmaster works, it’s an electronic exercise machine that gives you the same type of workout as climbing several flights of stairs.
Within two weeks of us beginning our workouts, I grew to despise those machines. I began dreading our workouts and started coming up with reasons (excuses) why I couldn’t fit a workout into my schedule. There was nothing pleasant or rewarding about my Stairmaster workouts. Each workout seemed as though it were the longest 20 minutes of my life.
On one occasion, as I was working out on the Stairmaster, I caught myself repeating over and over to myself in my mind: I hate this machine, I hate this machine, I hate this machine, I hate this machine. When I realized what I was doing, it occurred to me that the only way I was going to be able to continue to work out on the machine was to change the message I was sending to my subconscious mind.
I immediately changed what I was saying to myself: I love this machine, I love this machine, I love this machine, I love this machine. It’s going to help me lose weight, tone up my body, and get me into shape. I love this machine, I love this machine, I love this machine.
I then repeated the statement out loud, I love this machine, I love this machine, I love this machine. When Georgette heard me talking to myself, she looked over at me with a confused look on her face, and asked, “What are you doing?” I explained to her that I was in the process of reprogramming my mind to develop a positive attitude towards the Stairmaster machine.
She looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face, and asked, “Is it necessary for you to repeat the statement out loud so everyone around you can hear what you’re saying?” I responded by telling her that in addition to me benefiting from repeating the statement in my mind, I would also benefit from actually hearing the spoken words with my ears.
At that point, Georgette gave me the same look that she has periodically given me over the course of our marriage that telegraphs the message: What was it again that attracted me to this man? And now that I am stuck with him, what am I going to do with him?
Okay, so maybe I didn’t actually need to hear the spoken words, but my strategy worked. Before long, I actually started looking forward to our workouts because I believed that they were going to help me accomplish my goals of losing weight, toning up my body, and getting into shape.
Back to my cousin and the message he sends to himself every time he talks about how tired he is. I learned a long time ago that it’s dangerous to talk about how tired you are. The more you say “I’m tired,” the more tired you become. I make a conscious effort to avoid telling myself and others that I’m tired.
Even though there are many evenings when I am completely exhausted, I refuse to talk about how tired I am because I do not want to convince my subconscious mind that it — my mind — is tired. I may be physically worn out, but I always want my mind to remain fresh and energized.
Children never talk about how tired they are. We know when they’re tired because they start acting up. When we attempt to lay them down for a nap or for the night, they complain because they don’t want the day to end. In their minds, they’re not tired and they have too much to accomplish before they go to bed.
I can’t imagine Jesus, Mary, or Joseph ever commenting or complaining about how tired they were.
Unless we lose our mental capacity to think rationally, we should never allow our minds to become tired. While our bodies may become old and frail, we need to make every possible effort to keep our minds young, fresh, enthusiastic, and hopeful.