Focus, Assess, Inward, and Live—How to Deal with Failures

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Perhaps the most difficult phrase a person has to hear in life is: You need to wait. Whether you renewing your driver’s license and have to wait at the local DMV or waiting for a job interview or searching for your vocation in life, waiting can be tough. St. Paul wrote about the importance of patience. Perhaps his most famous, and arguably his most timeless passage, 1 Corinthians 13, the great evangelizer ever reminds us, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated” (verse 4 emphasis mine).

My natural tendency leans towards impatience. Busyness and speed dominate my daily life. Whether this issue began as a child, as I was diagnosed with ADHD or if my fast-paced work environment and reliance on technology is a factor may be debated. Regardless, at the end of the day, I am in charge of choosing to slow down, to pause, and to reflect on my crossroad events in my life. Certainly, today it seems is a turning point in my life.  Earlier this week, I learned about a fantastic job opportunity within my company that would be a perfect match for my skills. Excitedly, I discussed this chance with my manager. Needing permission from senior management to apply—as I am still only a few months in my current role, my manager informed me that I needed to wait for a year from when I was hired in my current role.

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Disappointed I took this time to focus my efforts into working diligently. Focus. This word permeated my thoughts today. According to the great Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Oftentimes, courage is associated with quick thinking. However, sometimes the courageous thing to do involves waiting—patiently. That is what I did today. I paused and assessed my frustrating situation. “I am stuck in a position where I am not happy. It is not a good fit!” I initially told myself.

After inwardly reflecting I realized that waiting is not necessary a bad thing. The American author Joyce Meyer poignantly put it, “Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” Taking time to reflect on my apparent failings gave rise to a mantra that helped re-focus my attitude—F.A.I.L= Focus+ Assess + Inward=Live

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Live life to the fullest. We are called to a joyful life. This does equal a life free from suffering—today certainly proved that with my disappointment about the job opportunity. Nevertheless, any cross, big or small, presents us all with an opportunity—to run from it or to embrace it. Today, I choose the latter! St. Therese of Lisieux encountered suffering most of her earthly life. The wisdom gained from accepting her crosses was profound. The French saint stated, “For one pain endured with joy, we shall love the good God more forever.” Love is patient. God is love. Therefore, God is patient. May the Holy Spirit grant us the virtue of patience and ability to transform apparent failings into fruitful joys!

3 Things “The Hobbit of the New Testament” Taught Me

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Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. Much of the Catholic Church’s sacramental life is founded on memorializing events from the Gospels. During the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.” When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.

Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”

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  1. Persistence pays off: Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way (Luke 19:4). Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.

 

  1. Jesus Chooses the Imperfect: Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Not only did Zacchaeus struggle to physically see Jesus among the crowd, he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen—he was a tax collector! According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)” Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).

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  1. Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing: A final point Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me is that spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Jesus welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness. Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.

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J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future! I took to Zacchaeus, a figure who was not only physically limited, but spiritually limited who saw something transformative and attractive in Jesus. Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.

***“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien***