Time to Clean House

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

How many times a day do we say: “I have to …”?   Quite frequently. In fact, our lives seem to be riddled by “…have tos…” Where do they come from? Are they all imposed on us, willy nilly? Are they all figments of our imagination? Do they go away if we disregard them or pay them no attention? Are they a trait of a certain type of personality? Are they figments of our imagination that will disappear with the passage of time? Are they all of the same gravity or weight, one being as urgent and important as the other? Do we resent them as something unpleasant or burdensome? Are they an unwelcome intrusion into our lives? Do they come and go, or are they always around? Can they be disregarded, with impunity, so that nothing comes of it? Is my life driven by “have tos”? Is this the same thing as what the Irish call “the troubles”?

All these questions lead us to ask whether we have been leading our lives complaining too much about all the obligations weighing down upon us, which we usually ascribe to outside forces to which we are subject.   If that’s the case, it should lead us to look outside or beyond ourselves to find the source of our burdensome sense of duty and obligation. In this scenario, it’s easy for us to play the role of victim, of one “put upon” by our surroundings, which cast a dark shadow over our life situation, leading us to spend too much time and energy trying to eliminate or at least diminish it. But it often involves the mistake of wrongly situating the source of our “troubles”, and expending our energies, in the wrong direction.

This leads us to identify the law and its derivatives, such as precepts, statutes, ordinances or rules and regulations as the problem.   We have this battery of names to identify this pesty and bothersome annoyance that is forever waylaying our activities. Early on, the likely focus of our chagrin would likely be the ten commandments, with none other than God Himself as the source of this intrusion into our peace and quiet, disturbing the way we like to do things. Was it not our Catholic elementary school education that introduced these formidable precepts into our lives? This background likely explains the source of our “problem”, ever after helping us explain that it has been God Who is the source of all the major “have tos” in our life, and so making it difficult for us to think of Him more as a law-giver than as a loving and caring Friend.

Now, while it may be true that God is behind some of the “have tos” in our life, as a matter of fact, these amount to a relatively small number, compared with the flood of “have tos” that pelt us daily from morning to night. For certainly it is not God Who weighs in upon us about having to go to the store when the pantry grows bare, or having to go to the doctor when we don’t feel well, or having to take the children to school, or having to prepare supper for the family, or having to go to the wake of a neighbor, or having to go to the nearest ATM when we grow short of cash, or having to finish reading a book for the book discussion club to which we belong, or having to do the laundry when we run out of clean clothes, or having to take our aunt to see her doctor, or having to attend the wedding reception of a neighbor, etc., etc. Then there the counterparts of these “have tos”: all the negatives besetting us: don’t tread on the lawn, don’t walk your dog without a leash, don’t sit on this just painted bench, don’t smoke within 25 feet of this building, don’t exceed the 20 mph limit near this school, don’t talk on the phone and drive at the same time, don’t park in this space, etc.

On review, doesn’t it seem that there is a lot of “much ado about nothing” in these examples? Haven’t we lumped together, in the same category, all manner of “have tos” into the same category? And aren’t most of them easily deflatable, like a balloon or a tire? For they are largely artificial, “make believe”, obligations, self-imposed, by our lumping together everything we experience as a “have to” into one huge set of burdens bearing down upon us, the helpless victims, rather than who we really are: the ones responsible for the vast majority of these “have tos”, badgering our every step. We can certainly identify with Louis Armstrong’s: “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen…”

There is really no need to view life as a series of “do’s and don’ts”. Few of them derive from outside ourselves. Most of them are of our own making. So we can certainly exonerate God of most of them. He is an interested bystander watching us fret over our predicaments, pretending we are forever being put upon by outside forces, when, as a matter of fact, we are the perpetrators of most of these “imperatives” bearing down on ourselves. We need a good, old-fashioned spring house-cleaning in which we rid ourselves of our own demons, whom we have invited to come and settle within our selves, while we make believe we are victims of circumstances beyond our control.   Most of are more victimizers than victims.

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Author: CPP

We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.

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