One key biblical image is that of building solid foundations, making a dramatic distinction between building on rock as opposed to on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). The point of foundations is that they have to be done in advance, this largely hidden, deep digging, has an enormous impact on the stability of the building. The importance of the foundations are only realised when the storm comes and tests the structure. These days are an opportunity to do this crucial excavation work, to deepen our foundations and give us something to hang onto during the personal and social storms that threaten us. These are ten principles based on the wisdom of St. Ignatius of Loyola, suggestions for how you might concretely build up a good structure and hopefully help weather the many storms.
1. Know yourself; The ancient Greek wisdom highlights the importance of the journey into oneself, the acquiring of crucial self knowledge that allows a person to be creative, responsible and free. Generally, we are given a gift or talent in one area, which also comes with a shadow side. Some kind of journaling or diary writing can help as a way of reflecting on life experience and seeing the meaning in it. Ask for divine help to process difficult experiences. It can take a lifetime, maybe that’s why we live so long in general.
2. Accept your humanity; We are all a complex mix of body, mind and soul, with great gifts but also a great capacity to deceive ourselves. We are often driven by desires that unexamined will ruin us, but conversely will complete us. The best thing is that we have the tools to make great things of ourselves with humility and God’s help. There are two basic movements within us, towards God and life and the opposite; we can learn how to differentiate these feelings or moods. This skill of discernment has to be learned and practiced, the challenge is accepting the mix of good and evil in us.
3. Tackle your demons; Many of us labour under the effects of the past, wounds or secrets that can severely limit our peace and happiness. It takes real courage to face into these, to ask for help (e.g. a counsellor or a close and trusted friend) and to take the necessary steps to move on.
4. Make amends; Inevitably we will have made mistakes along the way and as AA highlights, we have a duty to try to right the wrongs that we have done in so far as that is possible. There is something concrete and real about actions as opposed to just words. The word ‘sorry’ goes a long way.
5. Put the supports in place; No one is a completely self sufficient ‘island’, rather we are who we are through relationships and particular individuals/institutions. Accepting that you can’t do it alone means figuring out what supports or people you need to help you. The self sufficient ego doesn’t like this so you have to actively go against it to put supports in place. Have a regular prayer/meditation practice. This is the most challenging thing as it demands accepting limits, the need for a higher power and the need to ask for help. A bit like charging a battery, there is no shortcut for being plugged into the source for a certain time and frequency. It becomes easier with practice; the Spirit prays within us. God needs the access and time to make great instruments of us.
6. Fix a bad habit; Things tend not to get better by themselves so it’s better to set out to conquer a bad habit intentionally and applying our resources to it, recognising that we need God’s help especially in really tough challenges (pray as if everything depends on you but act as if everything depends on God). Apparently it takes around 7 weeks to fix a habit; start now. Bring God’s grace to bear on the very root of the problem, clear all other debris.
7. Thank those who have made you what you are; A really useful exercise is to look back and realise all the people and kind actions that brought you to where you are. Remember what power you have to influence others for good in the same way. Break the cycle of negativity and regret though, it goes nowhere. Cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude.
8. Reflect on your life and to what extent you are living your life’s purpose and finding meaning; This is challenging, to examine choices and compromises made in your ‘big’ decisions. Realise that you always have choices and pray for the insight to know what to do now, whether to live with it or make changes. Inevitably life is messy but God is there somewhere and we always have choices, even if it is to find meaning in less than ideal circumstances. It is in aligning ourselves to a sense of mission that we really come alive.
9. Reflect on your death – it’s going to happen anyway! How would you like to have looked back on your life, what would you like to be remembered for, what can you do about it now? This is not a morbid speculation but rather an invitation to live fully the time that you have as a gift, we know from following Jesus that death is nothing to fear. The Cross of Christ is the centre of our lives.
Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done,
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be,
Old bridges breaking between you and me,
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall,
Confident that we have built our wall.