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The other day I received an e-mail at the office with a signature tagline along these lines…

“Happiness is the ability to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, for as long as you want to do it…”

A few of my colleagues were copied on the e-mail and were offended by the quotation. I can’t say I was offended, exactly. Actually I thought the phrase a fairly representative depiction of the person sending the e-mail. Besides, wouldn’t we all enjoy the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want for as long as we want? Don’t we all dream of a life-time spent breezing from one fabulous vacation to the next, lying on the beach sipping something fruity out of a cocoanut shell? Isn’t that why the lives of celebrities who seem to do exactly that garner so much attention in the media? Though we may be reluctant to admit it, aren’t we all just a little bit envious of the freedom they have to do exactly what they want to do, all the time, without money being a limiting factor?

The quotation lingered in my thoughts for a couple of days until I realized why I found it unsettling. A vacation is meant to be a period of respite, to regroup, to recover, to take a long, deep breath before we confront the next challenge, which might be no more than returning to the trials we confront in the course of our everyday lives.

Growth does not come from lying around on a sandy beach, or skiing in the Alps, or shopping on Rodeo Drive. Evolution is a result of hard work, of confronting our limits and pushing through them. We are either moving forward or falling behind. There is no such thing as maintaining the status quo. Take for example a woman who does everything within her power to cling to her youth and beauty. No matter how many hours she sweats at the gym, regardless of how much money she spends on cosmetics, she cannot stop the march of time or its effects on her physical form.

Nature pushes us forward. God is in a hurry to show us the next even more wonderful offering he has in store for us. He wants more for us than our current limits allow us to experience. Our time here in this life, is a gift. Will we spend it in foolish, narcissistic pursuits? Would we not be better served working towards the next best version of ourselves rather than paying homage to the self we are now?

The purpose of time is to help us keep track of our progress. It allows us to look back on where we were, on who we used to be, and hopefully to congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come. (Of course, it holds up the same mirror to reveal to us how far we’ve fallen from where we once were.) Or to make painfully clear to us just how much of it we’ve wasted by attempting to cling to an old version of ourselves we’ve already outgrown.

So do not envy those who are stuck in the morass of self-adoration. Imagine how you would feel to look back ten years from now and discover you wasted those years in self-absorption rather than the pursuit of fruitful growth. Progress is hard, but rarely is anything worth doing, or worth achieving, easy. This is doubly true when the object of our striving is ourselves.  So be grateful for your struggles, (or try not to resent them too deeply). If you will allow them to they will lead you through and to the next best rendering of yourself.

At a morning mass recently, the priest’s homily was about pruning. His point was that pruning was painful, but God prunes those he loves. He cuts away the branches that no longer produce fruit in order to strengthen the tree itself.

We are all called to prune ourselves, to trim away that which no longer serves us and bring forth new fruit. Look around. We cannot stop time. We cannot halt the forces of nature, or linger in a past that no longer exists. It is for us to either move forward in step with evolution or to be flattened when we attempt to stand in its way.

It is not for God to diminish Himself in order to reach us at our level, but for us to continually strive to become a more perfect version of ourselves so that we may be closer to Him.