Editor’s note: This post is one in a series inspired by Joe Paprocki’s book 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness. In the book, Joe introduces each key with a fun or thought-provoking question. Each Friday we’ll share an excerpt from 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness that poses a question, followed by a response by a catechist or catechetical leader.
What scratches your itch?
On a spiritual level, we all have an itch. It’s that chronic, gnawing sense of discomfort that begs for a scratch. Most of the time we don’t identify the source of the itch. We just scratch. And scratch. And scratch. We find ways to bring about temporary relief. But it’s only temporary. We often scratch to excess, breaking the “skin” of our soul and causing harm to ourselves without eliminating the source of said itch.
Itches—and how we scratch them
Spiritual itches occur when life, like a giant mosquito, takes a bite out of us.
- We face the breakup of a relationship
- We lose a loved one
- We lose a job
- We’re overlooked for a promotion
- We suffer a financial loss
- We endure a difficult life transition
- We fail at an important task
- We witness meaningless pain and suffering
- We experience general chaos
- We endure seemingly hopeless situations
Some of these experiences are immediate, tragic, and painful. Others are subtle, ongoing, and mildly frustrating. All of them cause an itch that must be scratched. We want to feel good, so we
- drink alcohol
- use drugs
- have sex
- play video games
- blog, tweet, surf the Internet
- watch television
Most of these are normal, everyday activities which, done in moderation, are enjoyable and healthy ways of taking joy in life’s pleasures. We do them because we want to feel good. Is that too much to ask? Well, yes and no.
On the one hand, God created us to take pleasure in his creation. Through our senses—taste, touch, smell, sight, sound—we are able to take in a myriad of pleasures. A healthy spirituality relishes these pleasures. In fact, Catholic spirituality celebrates these pleasures. Our liturgical calendar is resplendent with feasts. Our greatest feast, Easter, is celebrated with a fifty-day festival!
On the other hand, danger comes when one of these pleasurable activities drifts toward excess. We can become addicted.
—7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness by Joe Paprocki
Worry or Gratitude?
Right now I’m scratching the many itches of daily frustration, disappoint, and worry. As I come to the end of the catechetical year with First Communion just a day away, I’m scratching the many bites of “Did I?” Did I just fill them up with knowledge about Jesus, or did I truly introduce them to Jesus? Did I do enough for that child? Did I make a positive growing experience for every child in my classes? Did I reach out to the parents enough? Did we pray enough? Did I do enough meditative prayer? Did I not emphasize something enough? Did I miss anything? Did I do something that didn’t work?
I find that I scratch these itches by distracting myself with more action, particularly anything involving social interaction. I don’t stop and evaluate or reflect. I simply march on, rarely stopping for a reflective pause. A profound extrovert, I am a person who needs people. I want to be busy and around people. I will call or get together with a friend, become involved with another group, or sign up for another committee. I’ll even participate in an activity I might not be actually interested in, just as long as it puts me in the midst of people. These are all choices I have made.
I also spend time on the Internet as a way of scratching these itches. The call of the online world can be very seductive. I can distract myself for hours researching a topic, reading posts in Facebook groups, searching for new recipes, or playing games. Somehow this seems to give me a false sense of accomplishment, offering me a seemingly unlimited swath of information and connection with nothing required in return.
I scratch and scratch and scratch, but the itches do not go away. Sure, perusing Pinterest for hours on end might give me some temporary relief, but the itches always come back, and before I know it, I’m back scratching again. How can I find permanent relief? I can begin with honesty. When I am on the Internet, I realize that everything is just one click away. And as long as I have an Internet connection, I am in complete control of my world. Now that I have named the itch for what it is—my need for control—I begin to see things in a new light. I can see that my constant worrying is simply an expression of my need for control. Knowing this, I can reorient my desire toward God by the simple practice of gratitude. Am I worried about whether the children really got to know Jesus? I can replace that worry with gratitude for getting to know them. Am I worried about whether I did enough for them? I can replace that worry with gratitude for the time we spent together. Am I worried that we didn’t pray enough? I can replace that worry with gratitude for having prayed together.
I find God’s mercy in this spirit of gratitude, and I’m beginning to realize that God’s mercy is the only thing that can truly soothe my itching.
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