From the Tee Box

A Blog by Father Trey Nelson

THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS...

Most of us are very familiar with the phrase, “you’re burning the candle at both ends.” Typically, it refers to one who is working too hard and doing way too much, all the while not taking care of themselves. We’ve all been there. Recently, however, I came to a new insight about this. In late September I took a little 4 day trip to Colorado with a good friend. We spent the majority of the time in the mountains just outside of Aspen and Snowmass, part of which was spent hiking past Maroon Lake and then on to a beautiful location named Crater Lake, where we made camp. The lake itself was completely dry, but you don’t hike there for the lake. You hike for the view, which is beyond words. The mountains. The greenest grass you’ll ever see, and the bluest sky as well. And in the morning nothing tops sitting there on one of the many huge rocks, drinking camp coffee with your buddy and watching the sun come up over the mountains. It actually looks like a time-elapsed happening. That particular moment reminded me of resurrection, another new day, and all of the possibilities that come with it. Again, the whole thing was beyond words. For those of you who have been to Colorado, you know that you can say the same thing about the entire State. During our hiking time, especially, and for our entire trip actually, one of the things that we had to pay close attention to was the battery life on our cell phones. Other than using them for GPS during our non-hiking time, we basically only used them for taking pictures or listening to music, both of which can drain their life pretty quickly. For our trip I had purchased an external battery that, according to the guy at the Backpacker in Baton Rouge, could give your phone about 3 charges. I bought it, because I definitely didn’t want us to miss out on any opportunity for a great photo. While driving through the mountains, we could also use the USB port in our Jeep to charge, but that took way too long. I know this is all probably pretty boring, so here’s the thing. Regardless of how we were recharging our phones, we were at the same time using them. We would listen to our favorite songs, continue to take pictures and videos, and look for directions to our next destination.

And therein, my friends, is the thought. We do the same thing to ourselves. We do it to our bodies, our minds, our souls. Sometimes we push and push and push, without taking a deep breath. As author Wayne Muller puts it in his book on the Sabbath, we rest when we can and not when we need to. There is a difference, you know. Now, I’m not talking about those times when we HAVE TO push ourselves. Exam time. Projects that are due. A talk that we may have been asked to give, and so on. But you tell me. Is this whole cell-phone battery-recharging thing not a good analogy of how we often live? We work and give and do and play. We expend, we move, we push and push and push. And we wonder why we sometimes feel the way we do. This may not be your reality, but I bet, in some way, it’s hitting pretty close to home. We put off our prayer, all the while saying to ourselves, “oh, God understands.” We know we need to exercise more, but again, we put it off, and before you know it, months have gone by and we go through the days feeling tired.

I learned (actually, re-learned) 2 things on this recent backpacking trip. First, I experienced in a new way the benefits of being temporarily off the grid and totally cut off from everyone and everything. Second, I came face to face with my own physical limitations. Was I prepared enough to go and actually do what I had hoped to do? Probably not. I only accomplished part of the hiking goal. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and one of the best trips ever. I mean that. But I came face to face with a stark reality: if I was going to return home to the joys and the challenges of ministry and work and family and just life in general, I would need to continue being good at the whole recharging thing. I thought I was pretty good at it already, but I know I can be better at it. I want to continually feel fulfilled in my ministry and relationships with family and friends. I want to continue to enjoy things. Play more golf, maybe. Cook a little more. Take even more time for meditation. As I bring this blog to a close, you and I may wish to ask ourselves 2 simple questions: are you taking enough time to recharge? And, if there are children in your life, are you setting a good example of this for them? Because, if they grow up thinking that the majority of life is “petal to the metal,” then, wow. That would be so tragic.

Burn the candle as you need to, as your responsibilities ask of you. Just don’t burn it at both ends, because eventually the two will meet. And then there will be nothing left to burn, nothing left to give.

 

WHERE HAVE ALL THE MENTORS GONE...

About a year ago, I came to a realization that would eventually have a significant impact on me emotionally. This is how it happened. I visit my cousin, Nelson, and his wife, Sally on a fairly regular basis on Sunday nights. After an awesome meal, we usually sit outside for a cigar, a drink, and conversation. If it’s winter, the outside fireplace is lit. If it’s not, well, then, we just endure the humidity like everyone else. At some point in every conversation, we usually end up reminiscing about the good old days, when we were younger and life seemed simpler. We talk about our parents and grandparents, trips to our favorite place, Grand Isle, and everything that our parents tried to teach and pass on to us. My Dad and Nelson’s Mom were brother and sister. They are now both deceased, along with his dad and all of our grandparents. At one point, the conversation went silent. Then my cousin made a statement. He said, “you realize now that the two of us are the patriarchs of this family.” There was no arrogance with that. None at all. It was a simple acknowledgment that our responsibilities would, perhaps, be different now. As we talked, it became clear that what we both desired and felt a responsibility for was to preserve what had been handed down to us. The customs, the practices, the values. But the question then arose, “what about is? Who are our patriarchs? Our mentors?”

Driving home that night, I realized that the mentor dynamic in my personal life had changed significantly. I still have my Mom, but, as I mentioned, my Dad has passed, all of my grandparents too, and 2 other key mentors in my life have died of cancer, one right after the other. There are a couple of others to whom I have looked for guidance and mentorship, but they are experiencing some health issues that have changed the dynamics of those relationships also. “So, what’s a guy to do?” I thought, “when all of your mentors are gone?” According to one source, a mentor is defined as, “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” (www.dictionary.com)

If it is commonly accepted that a mentor is someone significantly older than you, then, I’m not sure who mine are. For me this has always been the kind of relationship that you cannot force. In my experience, the real mentor relationship has to happen naturally. It has to be something (and someone) with whom you are comfortable. As priests, we “assign” mentors to our younger priests. That’s a good idea, I think, but ideally you’d choose your own. As of now, my counsel comes mainly from my peers: my brother, my brother-in-law, one of our deacons, and a couple of friends and priests close to my age. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good counsel, just not the same.

As I bring this blog to a close, it occurs to me that what I might really be struggling with is simply the reality that we’re all growing older. My cousin’s statement to me about “being patriarchs” was pretty sobering. I miss the old days, and, respectfully, I miss “the old people” too. But here’s the thing: we’re not the only ones growing older. We’re all in it together. As life progresses, so too does our role. The “baton” of mentoring is, perhaps, passed to us. But, in the end, whether we seek counsel from someone older than us or not, the crucial thing is that we do in fact seek it.

We are never too old to reach out for wisdom.

ASSUMPTIONS: LET'S NOT MAKE THEM...

This morning Deacon James and I were reviewing one of the many tasks related to the daily operation of a parish office; namely, the text for our outgoing voicemail messages. This may seem like an insignificant thing, but it’s actually very important, especially for holy days. Anyway, in doing so, we noted that the next major feast is the Solemnity of the Assumption on August 15. This automatically took my mind to a possible topic for my next blog: assumptions and the caution against making them.

Like all of us, I have my weaknesses. I can pretty much identify those for you rather quickly. One thing that I really work hard at, however, is NOT MAKING assumptions. I really try to catch myself and not do that. Over the years, I have learned to ask myself, for example, questions like: “I wonder what kind of day he or she is having?” Or I’ll try to stop and remind myself, “hey, maybe they’re having a difficult time right now.” And so on. The fact is, you just never really know what’s going on in a person’s life or why they chose to do something a particular way. As a priest, I have also learned that people at times make assumptions about us. While this sometimes hurts, I’ve gotten use to it. For example, on a lesser, humorous level, some people assume that all we as priests do is drink coffee, read the paper, and play golf. At a more serious level, however, it is common for parishioners to go in and out of the hospital without us ever knowing it. It would be nice to visit, but if no one calls to tell us, we have no way of knowing. Some people think that we are automatically made aware of such things, when, in fact, it doesn’t happen that way.

The most serious assumptions, however, are the ones that we make about other people just in day to day life. Sometimes our assumptions are based on how a person looks, whether they smile a lot or not, the kind of work that they do, or, worst of all, what we “heard someone say” about them. It is unfair and wrong to do this to one another.

I’ve used the image of a traffic light before to illustrate other points, and it seems to be appropriate here: we cannot approach each other in the same way that we approach a green or yellow light. As we should always proceed with caution through an intersection, so too should we always proceed with compassion in our understanding of each other. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus specifically instructs us, “if your brother (or sister) sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” While this passage refers primarily to conflict resolution, it can also serve as a caution for us to NOT make assumptions about one another. In the end, we would all do well to give each other the benefit of the doubt. It would be really nice if we would learn to slow down and really try to consider where that person is coming from, what they’ve been through, and what’s going on in their life right now. In the end, it comes back to the golden rule, as it always does: treat others as you yourself want to be treated.