Charlie's Blog: Pray and Work


Pray and Work

Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you.

There are many blogs on the internet. There are so many that come into existence and go out of existence that it is impossible to get an accurate count of them. They cover a wide range of topics, but the topic that I return to again and again is the subject of self-help. The advice is varied from being more manly to being more minimalist, but they all aim in some way to improve your life on planet earth on the individual level.

On the collective level, we have wars around the world, a shattered economy back home, high taxes on working people while the rich escape those taxes, unemployment, and college graduates struggling to pay off student loans with menial jobs after four years or more of high tuition and unpaid internships. It is dispiriting and depressing. What can you do about it?

I don't have great advice to give. This is because people want some magic wand that they can wave at these problems and make them go away. Over the years, I have expended great amounts of mental energy trying to figure things out, but I realize now in middle age that I don't have the answers to life's problems. They are bigger than I am. It takes all I can to keep my own life running in some decent fashion. I am no good at telling other people what to do since I rarely follow my own splendid advice. It wouldn't matter because that advice doesn't amount to much anyway.

As I whittle away the bad parts of my thinking, I realize that the only good advice I have left to give people are two words--pray and work. They seem so modest, but they are the only things I have ever found that work. Any additional advice are just corollaries to those two words. When my wife tells me about someone in desperate straits, I always ask the same questions. Are they Catholic? Do they go to Mass? The answer is always no. It seems that people will try anything else other than God. God is always the last answer. He is not the first answer. He is the last answer. People will journey down every other dead end path, but they won't turn to God. I know because this is precisely what I did. I suspect that God lets people waste their time and even their whole lives before discovering this.

My wife has a catchphrase for this--anything but God. People will try anything else no matter how stupid before they try God. It could be atheism or pagan witchcraft or drugs or whatever. We have celebrities that will try Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Scientology, Kabbalah, Wicca, or any other religion or philosophy. But how many become Christian? How many become Catholics? Yet, what has any of these pagan paths yielded? Have these people become better people?

I was watching a program with a particular celebrity showing off her mansion, and I could not help noticing the sizable Buddhist statue she and her husband had. Apparently, he is a big devotee of the Buddhist religion even though it is certain that he was not raised in Buddhism. But that is the neat thing about being Buddhist. You can renounce your worldliness and materialism without actually renouncing your worldliness and materialism. You can be on the spiritual path and still be filthy rich. You can have that cake and eat it, too.

Jesus ends any such idea when He talks about the narrow path. There are few that find it. The reason they don't find it is because they don't want it. They are too concerned with the cares of the world to tend to the emptiness of their souls. The result is that it doesn't matter whether things are well or terrible for you because it all results in emptiness and despair.

I understand that people have problems. Everyone thinks their problems are unique, but when you hear and read about all the problems that I do, you realize that there are no exceptional cases when it comes to problems. When we suffer, we think we suffer alone, but this is not the case. God knows our suffering. He is intimately acquainted with what troubles us. He is always there ready to help. As St. Francis de Sales wrote:

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and everyday.
He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

If you have problems in your life, my advice is to pray and work. When I was a Protestant, I did a lot of praying but not a lot of working. When I was an atheist, I did a lot of working but not a lot of praying. But as a Catholic, I realize that you have to do both. Prayer and work go together. I think this is what God wants from us. He wants us to put all of our energies into those two activities.

I'm not into lifehacks, tips, and tricks. There are always better ways to do things, but they lull us into thinking that all problems are simply a matter of discovering better tricks. But I don't know of any lifehacks to combat the Ebola virus. If you find yourself dealing with that, you better be praying and working on a cure.

People don't want to pray. They choose to meditate, and I have to wonder what the good is in that. Meditation is about as beneficial as taking a nap. Similarly, people don't want to roll up their sleeves and go to work. They are always looking for ways to avoid work which leads to tricks and gimmicks usually at the expense of someone else's work.

I think if your life is a mess you should go to Mass or at least a church that you believe in. Start where you are at and pursue it as hard as you can. I have encountered people of various faith traditions including people in 12 Step programs. Turning to God has always made a positive difference in them. Pray every single day. Then, go to work on trying to solve your problems. Prefer labor over tricks and gimmicks. If you pray hard and work hard, your life will get better. You will be happier even if all you get is a clear conscience and the knowledge that you did all that you could.

When I read all of those other blogs, their advice seems entirely antithetical to the pray and work advice I give. Much of it comes down to becoming Zen Buddhist and finding ways to not hold down a 9-5 job somewhere. If you do work a job, their counsel is that it should always be a "paid to play" position. This is usually keeping a blog for money. Needless to say, I reject that advice. If you live your life for your sake, you will lose it. Your life should be lived for some higher purpose. Your life should be a sacrifice. This is done through prayer and work.

Pray and work. That is what I tell people now. I will listen patiently to people as they unburden themselves. I offer up a prayer for them. But I always tell them the same thing. Pray and work. Tend to those two things, and everything else will fall into place for you.