April 24, 2023

"The Secret" to Faith & Preparation

Homily – “Faith Through Preparation” I hate self-help books. Don’t get me wrong, I love self-help, self-improvement, self-awareness... pretty much self-most-everything in general. But self-help books are often just filled with vacuous platitudes that are designed to make us feel better while not actually improving anything and, of course, sell books. So, today I’ll talk about how self-help concepts can help us with the interplay between faith and hard practicality. As I always say, religion is useless if we can’t apply it to our lives in some real and helpful way.

I could always relate to the apostle, Thomas – also called “doubting Thomas” – because, I don’t know about all of you, but if my friend died and then another bunch of my drinking buddies told me he came back to life, I might need some proof too (but I probably wouldn’t poke my finger in his torso wound). I’ll give you a little insight into my marriage for this topic. I’m very much a pragmatist, naturally practical and logical. My wife is also practical, but she’s much more of an abstract, intuitive thinker. She always “believes” in things she wants to happen and, to be fair, it often works pretty well for her. She’s always telling me to “believe” that something good is going to happen when I’m depressed or feeling defeated.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m always expecting bad things to happen. In fact, if I’m being honest, I struggle with not expecting bad things, just because of my life experience. So, I tend to not believe something good will happen until I can see it occurring. It also comes from being a natural pessimist, I guess.

The "magical thinking" concept was cooked up to placate people and make them buy useless books.
Getting back to my affections toward self-books, I also don’t want to give you the wrong idea of something called “magical thinking.” That’s a concept that self-help books often push to convince us that all we have to do to get the things we want in life is believe hard enough, make a vision board, say positive affirmations, and other such bullshit like that. No, I don’t subscribe to all that. Personally, I think the magical thinking concept was cooked up by motivational speakers to placate people into false hope and make them buy useless self-help books. What I do encourage you to do though, is believe that good things will happen so that you align yourself with the opportunities for good things. In a way, this is what faith is also.

There’s an old saying by the Roman philosopher, Seneca, that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” That preparation sometimes has to be mental as well as practical. If you don’t believe something good can and will happen, then not only might you miss it when it comes by, but you also may not even be in the right place yourself to take advantage of it. Imagine if you thought you were walking into a situation where you had to defend yourself or fight for your life, but then only to find out that it was a fun social event, like a party or something. Your entire demeanor, both physical and psychological, would be completely unfit to go to a party without being very awkward and having to take some time to calm yourself down.

This is similar to spiritual faith in that if you don’t believe that something amazing can happen, then if/when it does, you probably won’t notice or even believe it if you do. I heard someone tell a story once to illustrate this too:

“Never mind, God. I got this on my own.”
A guy was driving to a really important business event that would make or break his career. He drove around frantically looking for a parking spot, worrying about being late. So, he prayed to God saying, “God, please let me find a parking spot! If you do, I’ll stop drinking, gambling, lying, cheating on my wife... whatever you want. Just please help me.” Suddenly, he saw a car pulling out of a spot right in front of him. So, he said, “Never mind, God. I got one on my own.”

I won’t tell you that if you believe in good things that they’ll happen. Again, that kind of absolute investment in thought power is really kind of bullshit. But I will tell you that if you don’t believe in good things, they probably won’t happen.