“Let it Begin with Me…”

This week's reflection is written by
Rev. Michael S. Murray, OSFS.

In Chapter One of his latest book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, author Matthew Kelly observes:

If you get the man or woman right, you get the world right. Such a simple message—yet we seem constantly obsessed with things we have no influence over, rather than focusing on where we can have most impact, which is with our own thoughts, words, and actions. It is our own thoughts, words, and actions that are at the epicenter of our circle of influence. The further we get away from them – worrying about what other people are thinking and saying or doing – the weaker our influence and impact becomes. Focus on affecting what you can affect and you will have the most effect. It all starts with you.”

If we do in fact obsess “with things we have no influence over” (as Matthew Kelly suggests), we probably come by it honestly. Bombarded as we are with 24/7 cable news cycles, incessant talk shows, social media and instant messaging, how can we not feel overwhelmed by the enormity of so many cultural, environmental, political, economic and religious issues today? That said, obsessing about things over which we have little – if any – influence does little more than make us feel even more overwhelmed – and perhaps, even helpless.

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Which doesn’t help in our daily efforts to become, as Kelly would say, a “better-version-of-yourself” or, as Francis de Sales would say, a “devout” man or woman.

Rather than spin our wheels about what we can’t control, focus our energies on the things over which we do have control – or, at least, the most direct influence: our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, words, and actions. As the Book of Proverbs (16:32) reminds us: “The patients are better than warriors, and those who rule their temper, better than the conqueror of a city.”

It turns out that focusing on where you have the most impact – be it obvious or obscure to others – is the secret to happiness. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

"It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. We must often recall that our Lord saved us by his suffering an endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring all possible meekness the injuries, denials and difficulties we meet.”"

Attempting to control things over which I have the least impact leads to self-obsession, that is, living under the mistaken belief that the world should conform itself to me. By contrast, attempting to take ownership of the things over which I have the most impact – my thoughts, feelings, attitudes, words and actions – leads to self-possession, that is, conforming myself to the image and likeness of the God who creates, redeems and inspires me.

If at the end of our lives the only thing we’ve managed to change and/or improve is ourselves, well, that’s no small thing. As the song goes, “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”