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What is best in life? Jesus and the Mayo Clinic Know!

by Elizabeth ScaliaJuly 05, 2018

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who walk into a room and say “Here I am!” and those who say, “There you are!” — Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby)

What is the secret to happiness, after all? The Mayo Clinic says they may have figured it out:

“…after decades of research and a dozen clinical trials, researchers at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, say they’ve actually cracked the code to being happy, and published it in a handbook.
Dr. Amit Sood led the research and says the first and foremost way to be happy is to focus our attention.
“You can choose to live focusing on what is not right in your life,” Dr. Sood said.
[…]
“So for example, if you’ve had a difficult day, when you get back home, for the first three minutes, forget about it, park it, and meet your family as if they’re long lost friends,” Dr. Sood added.
And perhaps one of the biggest hindrances to being happy is too much thinking about one’s self, research shows. [Emphasis mine]
“Complainers are never going to be happy…Happiness is a decision.”

Oh, my! That validates what many people have said, including – if attributions are to be believed — Abraham Lincoln, who is credited with saying “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be,” although it sounds more like Samuel Clemons, to me.

The Mayo findings do validate the lessons of the Church and many of her saints, however, especially when they remind us that the pursuit of personal and spiritual growth is not jump-started by the phrase, “Give me,” but rather by our saying to God — and to all the folks around us in whom we are meant to find him — “Please, take.”

Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s “Suscipe” is a complete self-surrender of joy:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

The Benedictine “Suscipe” which is thrice-chanted when a monk or nun professes solemn vows, is much pithier: “Receive me, O Lord, according to thy word, and I shall live.” For the religious taking vows, it is an complete oblation: “Do with me what you will.”

A prayer of surrender gets made many times in the life of faith. When the discovery of the All-Good first takes hold and is dewy and fresh, we make the prayer with lightness and almost a sense of romance. We throw ourselves at God and beg him to use us toward his purposes, whatever they may be. At that point, it never occurs to us to take a look at great saints who have uttered such a prayer, like Mother Teresa, or John Paul II, and were consequently used until they were full-on used up.

Once we do notice God’s tendency to take us at our words (often gathering more from us than we were consciously offering) we try to “control” God by praying with great specificity and more than a little hedging. We treat God like he’s a con-artist whom we’ve caught on to.

For example, a prayer asking God to keep a loved one safe might become an involved directive as we try to cover all possibilities and given values of the word safe: “I know Heaven is the safest place but that’s not what I mean! I mean, don’t let him hit or hurt anyone while he’s driving, and don’t let anyone hit or hurt him! And don’t let him be tempted!”

It is a prayer that says, “I’m on to you, God; I know how ironic you can be! I know all about the man who prayed for vocations and ended up with his own daughter joining a strict cloister and never coming home again!”

Not much surrender in such prayer; I know because I’ve uttered those sorts many times: “Dear God, please teach me how to be a better person. Thy will be done, but don’t do it some crazy way, that involves something tragic, okay? I can’t handle it.”

In truth, our prayers are rarely about open surrender. We want all the blessings we can get, preferably with as little suffering as possible, please and thank you! We think, “Please don’t wreck my life!”

But a genuine prayer of surrender, like those Ignatian and Benedictine “suscipes” acknowledges that “Thy will be done” is precisely that: a ceding of all illusions of control, even unto our lives seeming “wrecked” by human standards – the purposes of our losses and tragedies to be illuminated only in the light of heaven.

Jesus knew this very well as he prayed in Gethsemane. No wonder he was sweating blood.

Still, it was Jesus himself who told us to give it all away, to not worry about the “please give me,” prayers while urging us toward the “please take.”

“…do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
— Matthew 6:25

“Happy is the youth, because he has time before him to do good,” said Saint Philip Neri, who knew.

“There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart,” said Saint Augustine, too.

“A life not lived for others,” offered Mother Teresa, “is not a life.”

“Happiness is a decision,” declares the Mayo Clinic, which has recently caught up with Jesus, the saints, and the Church and discovered that we’re happiest when our lives are not all about ourselves.

Can I get an Amen?

About the Author

Elizabeth Scalia

Elizabeth Scalia

Elizabeth Scalia is a Benedictine Oblate and author of several books including the award-winning Strange Gods: Unma...

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