Avoiding “Check-Box Faith”. Discovering How to Break the Barrier.

Birgit - veil

Birgit - veil

A Time of Reflection for All
We are now in the liturgical season of Lent. This is a time of reflection and a time of change. It’s a time of prayer and a time of sacrifice for God and for others. For those who do not celebrate faith or perhaps even have any faith at all, it is late winter and sometimes a gloomy and quiet time.  So, I think for the entire world, it is perhaps a time of slowing down and of reflection.

Reflection is good and it can lead us to prayer. And prayer is communication with the Lord whether we are talking to him or listening to him. And within our Catholic faith there are so many ways to pray and many devotions and intercessions to God. Prayer is a true gift, and time is the gift that God gives to us while we are alive to get to know him and what is important to him to spread his love. I believe the best way for us to spread his love always starts with an open heart, a listening ear and an attentiveness to what is happening in our lives at the present moment. Many of us wish to do great things for many reasons. And perhaps during Lent, it is the perfect time to ponder many things in our hearts.  One question we can ponder is:  What are some of the ways God may be calling each of us to the particular mission he has for us?

“Check-box Faith”
I have always been a “To Do List” kind of person, admittedly. I think this can be a good thing, but it can also be something that needs to be put into its proper perspective. In my own reflection, I have discovered that all of life is a lot more than a “To Do List”, and it has been quite a revelation for me. As people living in the world, we always have many things to do no matter what our vocation may be. It is not a bad thing to want to accomplish our daily tasks or future aspirations. When it comes to our faith and relationship with God and even our final destiny at the end of this life, we can be assured that our own personal daily agenda will probably have less of a bearing on our unification with the Almighty.

In reflection on the season of Lent which we are in right now, I believe we can do the same in regard to wanting that sense of accomplishment or fulfilling a daily task when it comes to sacrifice and growing closer to God. Many of us decide to give up something we really enjoy like chocolate or candy and we give up eating meat on Fridays, but sometimes we fall into the same mentality in terms of our spiritual lives. I am referring to the idea of “check-box faith”.

For further examination, what is “check-box faith”? I must ask myself that question first and I offer it to you. Just as we go into the doctor’s office and are given a form to check off which diseases and disorders we may have experienced in the past or present, I think we can fall into this kind of mentality. The mentality of checking off the boxes on the sheet of paper so I can move on to the next task. It could be the “check-box” of attending Sunday or Daily Mass, which is the true gift of the Catholic faith and our obligation to God.  It could be our prayer time or our Rosary or other devotion. It could be the Church meeting we attend with other like-minded friends and acquaintances or the good deed or favor that someone asked of us. These are all wonderful and God-given opportunities of our Catholic faith, and the Sacraments are the instruments the Church gives us to receive Jesus in our hearts and souls. However, my point is that even in doing good and in doing things that are essential to our faith, we can sometimes be deaf to God’s ears to the ways in which he wishes to speak to us in our hearts.

The Year of Mercy and Reaching Out to Others
We have been blessed by our Holy Father Pope Francis with his institution of “The Year of Mercy” this liturgical year. I think this is an awesome thing, and it truly excites me that the Lord has spoken through Francis to spread his love and mercy to all people. In my own prayer, the Lord has drawn me to reflection of “mercy” and of what this year means to God and to the world. Mercy is a true gift of the Lord, and it is how God draws each one of us closer to him. And the closer we draw to the Lord, he will draw closer to us in our prayer and in the fabric of our lives each day. I came across the following quote from the Holy Father from an address he made in 2013:
“Let us not forget that the Lord always watches over us with his mercy; he always watches over us with mercy. Let us not be afraid of approaching him. He has a merciful heart. If we show him our inner wounds, our inner sins, he will always forgive us. If is pure mercy. Let us go to Jesus! -Angelus Address, St. Peter’s Square, June 9, 2013

This is a very personal quote meant to touch our souls and to believe in the mercy and the love God has for us. And it terms of our mission and his will for our lives, I believe there is a real connection to the topic of “check-box faith” and in attempting to continue to offer our duties and sacrifices to the Lord. It can also help us to move beyond ourselves to love others as much as possible to the point of real sacrifice for the people God presents to us who may need what we have to offer in terms of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy suggested by the Catholic Church. Gifts such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the imprisoned, counseling the doubtful and instructing the ignorant. These gifts are our higher calling! These are the ways we can break the barriers of “check-box faith” and make a true difference for God. But how can we do this?

Awareness of Others
I had some personal experiences in my 40’s that truly enlightened me on the topic of God’s mercy and of finding his love in a world that seems far from him at times. We all experience periods of feeling isolated and yes, even depressed in attempting to do good and hear God’s voice. It is not always easy, and I have found it is even downright challenging at times. I was praying a lot and doing my best to stay close to God through Daily and Sunday Mass attendance and receiving the Sacraments, but the sense of abandonment and isolation became a true effort and hard for me. God opened my eyes to not only my feelings of depression but to what it is like for so many people who feel alone and very isolated from the world and God.

I was fortunate and found my way during that time through God and also through some new friends that God led me to that have helped me to see the good inside myself.  It enabled me  to “begin again” through learning to live in the present and not in the past. This gift gave me the grace to help others and be able to see the love of God in my own soul which brought me closer to those around me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for that gift that saved me from myself and from the sadness and negativity of the world. Perhaps the greatest lesson from the Lord has been an awareness of the suffering of others. This is a true way we can break the bonds of “check-box faith”.  God can use YOU to make a difference in bringing his love and mercy to the world. Not just for Catholics and Christians, but for all humans who God made and loves.

Making it Real
Do you know someone in your family or in your neighborhood, Church or work place who seems isolated? Is there someone you see at Mass on Sundays who comes alone and may walk by you and your group of friends that you could say “hello” to or reach out? Have you heard of an elderly person in your community who cannot find a ride to doctor’s appointments and literally has no one else to ask? Do you know of a teenager or young woman who is contemplating an abortion and needs support to choose life?  Even more simply, does your spouse, child, friend or relative seem down or depressed and could you offer them a smile or some of your time or listening ear? There are many more questions we could ask ourselves on a personal level. These are just a few. Be a support for someone in need. Reach out. Pick up the phone. Do something special for someone. If you can do these kinds of things, something tells me that you will break the barrier of “check-box faith”. And pray for me, too, that I can do the same. God bless you.

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