Sunday, February 01, 2009

"...And They Will Keep You."

She was popular with the guys when she was 16--popular, because she was both pretty and “easy”, the subject of much gossip. Her social calendar was always full; she had no problems with getting dates, and her series of boyfriends during high school read like a “who’s who” list among the most popular boys. Life seemed fun.

The first time I saw her after graduation was 20 years later, on the occasion of her 20th high school reunion. She was only 37, but looked closer to 50; the shining face I remember from high school looked sad, even weary, a tell-tale sign of how hard life had been. I learned she was divorced from her second husband; she had a daughter with the first husband who was now a rebellious 16 year old, scarred, no doubt, by the instability of her parents’ lives. Life was very difficult.

In that same class was another young lady, beautiful, though less flamboyantly so, and certainly not as popular. She was active in the life of the school, a terrific varsity basketball player as I recall, involved in student government, and well respected by her peers. She took her faith seriously and though she wasn’t perfect, tried to live a virtuous life. At times during high school she was lonely—when so many of her friends were out drinking, she was at home, and I can only imagine there were many times during her high school days she regretted not being more a part of the “in” group, who seemed to be having more fun.

She, too, was at the 20th year reunion, but her life could not have been more different than her classmate. She was married at 22, just after graduation. She and her husband had been married for 17 years and had three children, the oldest of whom was now a 15 year old girl—who I learned from her friends was both a stellar athlete and student. Despite having three children, there was vibrancy to her face and cheerfulness to her disposition that made her look younger than her age. She seemed very happy and at ease with herself, and I observed she laughed a lot that weekend with her classmates.

I tell you about these two girls from my past because today many people believe that a moral life is a dull life, a lonely life, or a life without friends. It’s almost as if the Church tells us to live morally because it wants us to be unhappy. But the truth is, living morally is the path to greater happiness, even if sometimes that means we have to give some things up on the way.

Good athletes understand this, I think. I had the good fortune on Friday to attend both the girls’ bowling tournament in Smyrna and then the girls’ swimming championships in Centennial Park. On the way home I was thinking: How many hours of practice did it take Haley Pionk to become the best girls bowler in Tennessee? How many laps in the pool in the last month did it take Abby Wood to shave nearly 9 seconds off her personal best time in the 500 meter freestyle? Athletes understand there is no long term reward without short term sacrifice, no easy path to the successful life, no free ticket to happiness.

There’s an old Jewish saying: “Keep the commandments and they will keep you”.

God, the creator of this universe, has a unique design and destiny for each of you to become the “best version of yourself” possible, and in so doing, become truly happy. Though there are no shortcuts, he promises you if you remain faithful and if you seek his forgiveness when you fail to be faithful, he will give you a life full of joy and happiness. May you be courageous enough to live the right way and may you enjoy all the future happiness he promises you.

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