Charlie's Blog: Ups and Downs


Ups and Downs

I believe the market will fluctuate.

I am not a good spiritual director. Most of the advice I give here is merely being handed off as a baton that I received just recently. I used to think I knew things, but I don't think wisdom truly takes hold until sometime past age sixty. It gives me something to look forward to if God wills that I live that long. But at my current age of 44, there is one bit of wisdom that I know is rock solid and will always be true about life under the sun. There will be ups, and there will be downs.

People don't like ups and downs. They either want it to all be up, or they want it to all be down. This explains optimism and pessimism. The optimist wants to will heaven on earth by some sort of trick of the mind, but that person lives in perpetual delusion and disappointment. The pessimist wants to give up on life and caring and wallow in depression and despair. Then, life gives them something wonderful. The despairing person experiences anger as this unexplained goodness seems like the bait for a trap. But the reality is that life is neither all good nor all bad.

The reason human experience is like this is because God is the author of that experience. Nothing happens in life that is not willed by God. And it is God's will that you neither despair of life nor fall in love with it. If you truly love God with all your being, you are able to hold the world with its ups and downs in its proper place. Here are the words of St. Paul:
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 
The irony of Paul's words come not from finding strength from Christ in the bad times but in the good times. Marcus Aurelius put it well when he wrote, "One can live well even in a palace." Even a pagan could recognize that it is not our circumstances that make us what we are but what is inside of us. In this context, prosperity can be worse for us than adversity because prosperity tempts you to comfort and amnesia. In the proper frame of vision, you see that the prosperous are actually cursed while those in adversity are blessed. This is the essence of the Beautitudes of Our Lord.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  
I like to use the turkey analogy when it comes to having the right perspective on life. I take this from Nassim Nicholas Taleb who used it as an illustration of black swan events, but I use it instead for illustrating how good and bad fortune depend upon time frames. Imagine a turkey who is well fed, watered, and cared for by a farmer. The turkey grows nice and fat and thinks that life is awesome right up to the day before Thanksgiving when the farmer takes the fat turkey out to the chopping block. Imagine that turkey's surprise! But we don't have to imagine hard because we see this daily as the wicked prosper. It is my personal belief that those who enjoy the greatest comforts in this life will endure the greatest torments in the life to come. I base this on the story of Lazarus that Jesus gave us.
Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 
But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 
And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 
But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 
But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'
LUKE 16:19-31 NASB 
Time horizons are what move us from envying the prosperity of the wicked to pitying those poor people. They are all fat turkeys oblivious to their date with the chopping block. But some despair before their time, and they fall into the opposite trap of depression and suicide. This includes those who are prosperous. Once again, their time horizons are shortened, and they conclude that life ends at death. Perceiving their life is not worth living, they hasten to a fate even worse than anything in this life. This is what the prosperous and despairing have in common. They both believe that life ends at death. They differ in that some wish to prolong life while the others wish to shorten life. Both are erroneous ways of looking at life and the world.

With your eyes set firmly on God and the life of the world to come, you avoid the pitfalls of prosperity and despair. You learn to take both comfort and adversity as being from the hand of the Lord and for our good. God does not allow us to become too comfortable nor to be too afflicted beyond what we can bear. The smart athlete knows that it is not only strenuous training but also rest and recovery that strengthens the body. The same applies to the soul.

In my reading of the saints, I cannot help but notice this up and down pattern in their spiritual journeys. Their experiences include both times of utter bliss and also dark nights of the soul. This reflects the journey of Our Lord. For those who pray the Rosary regularly, the meditations span the joyous to the luminous to the sorrowful to the glorious, so you learn from these meditations the up and down nature of the life of Our Lord. A saint is someone who embraces all that God gives him or her in this life. By clinging to God always, God shapes us through our comforts and our trials. We learn to trust in Him and in His goodness knowing that He works all things for good.

Those who reject God pull off their rejection by taking one aspect of life and enlarging it into the totality of life. This is the essence of heresy and addiction. The comfort of beer and wine becomes the perpetual abode of the alcoholic. The painkilling properties of the opium plant become heroin addiction. The material blessings of the Lord become the gospel of prosperity and self-indulgence. The trials of the Lord become atheism and nihilism as happened to me in my life. The antidote to heresy and addiction is to take in the bigger picture. This is why I think a belief in God is essential to living a good life. The life of the body is short, but the life of the soul is forever.

I don't know what God has planned for me, but I do know one thing. It will fluctuate. I am going to laugh, and I am going to cry. I am going to love, and I am going to lose those I love. I am going to lose, and I am also going to win. I am going to work, and I am also going to rest. In all things, there will be ups and downs. The one thing I hope will be constant will be my faith in the Almighty. May our faith never waver as we journey through the ups and downs of life.