by Father Mark Goldasich
Occasionally, you’ll hear this wail from my office. What causes it is not disapproval of some story or shock at some typo. This lament will come as a result of a sudden loss of electrical power while I’m editing, or seeing the “spinning ball of death” as I try to save a document on the computer. Even though I know that I should save my work often, I usually don’t remember until disaster strikes. Hence, the cry of “Nooooooooooo!”
With that in mind, imagine the cry of historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) in this story, taken from Rick Christian’s book, “Alive”:
Carlyle had just spent two years writing a book on the French Revolution. On the day he finished his manuscript, he gave his only copy to a colleague, John Stuart Mill, to read and critique. Then, the unthinkable happened: Mill’s servant used Carlyle’s manuscript as kindling to start a fire.
As Mill reported the devastating news, Carlyle’s face paled. Two years of his life were lost. Thousands of long, lonely hours spent writing had been wasted. He couldn’t imagine writing the book again, and lapsed into a deep depression.
Then one day, while walking the city streets, Carlyle noticed a wall under construction. He was transfixed. That tall, sweeping wall was being raised one brick at a time. It was a “eureka” moment for him. If he wrote just one page at a time, one day at a time, he could write the book again. And that’s exactly what he did.
From this story, the author Christian drew this lesson: “When faced with seemingly impossible situations, we often see the wall and not the individual bricks. . . . But taken day by day, task by task, the load is more manageable. . . . Christ prayed for daily bread, daily sustenance. He didn’t worry about tomorrow, next week or next year. God’s help comes day by day.” (Story found in PreachingToday.com’s “Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion.”)
Take things one step at a time. Although we know this is how to live a fulfilling life, we don’t often follow this wise advice. It’s so easy to see only the whole picture or the entire project, get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. Carlyle’s depression was understandable when he only looked at the huge task in front of him: rewriting a whole book from scratch.
In my own life, I sometimes fall into that trap of feeling so overwhelmed that I just want to run away to a deserted island (with my books, of course) and leave everything else behind. I suspect that others also get overwhelmed — whether it’s dealing with an unending pile of laundry, clutter that needs to be tossed with or pounds that we’d like to lose.
At times like this, I’d suggest the following approach:
First, take a deep breath, close your eyes and say a heartfelt Our Father. Concentrate especially on the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Ask God simply to help you with what you can realistically do today. Knowing that God is supporting you lightens the stress load significantly.
Secondly, do “one brick at a time.” One of my constant battles is with paper. To help me deal with it, I bought a small tally counter. As I throw away or recycle each piece of paper, I keep a running count. The reason is simple: When I feel that I’ve done “nothing” to dismantle the paper mountain, I just look at my tally counter and see that that isn’t true at all. It gives me the encouragement to keep on going. (Right now, my counter shows that since the first of the year, I’ve tossed 6,239 pieces of paper!)
Thanks to Michael Podrebarac, the archdiocesan consultant for liturgy, I’ve added a third weapon to my “motivation arsenal.” It’s called “Bambelela.” Read his article on the next page for a fuller explanation. Suffice it to say here that this South African song, which I’d never heard of before his mention of it, has stuck in my head after listening to it online. (I like the Marty Haugen version.) The word means, “Never give up!” If you need a catchy tune to hum while you’re working on some big project that you’ve been avoiding, crank up “Bambelela” and make a dent in it.
I once saw a poster that said it well — You have a choice in life: You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off your face.
Instead of crying “Nooooooooooo,” why not sing bambelela?