Wednesday Witness: How Many Licks?

Who else remembers the candy commercial that seeks to answer the age-old question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Toostie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

The old owl manages just three licks before crunching the candy with his beak and swallowing it hole. “Three,” he answers with authority—even though, in his impatience, he has come to the wrong conclusion.

This past weekend I traveled to Michigan to visit my folks. Along the way, I listened to a great Jeff Cavins Bible study, James: Pearls for Wise Living and was struck again by what a straightforward guide to basic Christian living the Letter of James is. I was also convicted by several specific shortcomings James identifies among the early Jewish Christians to whom he was writing. Intemperance in speech, desires and appetites; impatience with each other and with God; inconstancy in times of temptation and trial; and inaction in response to God’s continuous call to conversion and discipleship—I fall (or rather step) into all of these traps regularly, placing myself at the center of my own little universe and asking those I love, including God, to orbit my star.

Praise God for His light, I’m making progress on these sins and failings—but many months ago a priest friend warned me that after more than 40 years of insecure, vain, prideful and selfish behavior, my ego is a now a master at self-protection. Each time I think I’ve uprooted a vice so virtue can bloom, what sprouts are variations of the same noxious weeds.

For example, with my new job I have more time at home than I’ve had in the past, which enables me to help my bride in ways I haven’t previously. I have taken over the budget and am manning the kitchen more frequently—but what started from a sincere desire to serve my wife and family has changed in recent weeks. My motivations are no longer loving—I want to show that I can do it all and do it better.

My goal is not to diminish Jodi, but in seeking to prove and affirm myself, sometimes I do diminish her. What appeared to be a step in a good direction has turned out to be yet another flavor of the Everlasting Gobstopper that passes for my heart.

So what to do about it? Lent begins today, and I am taking on a number of small commitments to root out behaviors that occur unconsciously in me (habitual eating, sarcasm, complaining, tuning out, etc.) and other “me-first” tendencies that crop up in daily life. My hope is that becoming conscious of these little things will help me slow down overall and become more aware of what’s going on in my heart—my desires, motivations and temptations—before they come out sideways in my relationships.

I am also striving to be patient with myself in this work. The Lord says, “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). That flesh-and-blood heart is there, beating beneath layer upon layer of hardened shell. I am not strong enough to reach it in one bite—but where is the learning in that anyway?

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Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.

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