May 4, 2012

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Getting back to the basics in our lives of faith

Patti LambRecently, I was helping my 7-year-old son, Henry, with his math flashcards. He is in the first grade, and has not yet mastered the art of humility.

He was on a hot streak for a change, and he was proud of his performance. Then came the final card, which was one that usually stumped him.

“Nine plus eight equals seventeen—easy!” he squealed, and broke into a celebration dance.

I congratulated him for improving at addition, and suggested that we should move along to the stack of subtraction flashcards. That is when he explained that he is almost in the second grade, and he declared, “Mom, I already know everything I need to know.”

“Not so fast, Einstein,” I said, pointing out the grape juice mustache on his face and the fact that he had missed a button on his shirt.

I tried to make this a teaching moment, and talked about how important it is to learn and constantly practice the basics. I told my son that the basics are the simple things we have to learn first before we can move on to other things.

I said that the basics are not just facts we learn at school, but things we learn at home and church, too.

Treating others how we want to be treated is a basic principle, I explained. “If we can’t get the basics right, then everything else becomes hard.”

Later that day, I received two graduation invitations from high school seniors. Soon, they will turn their tassels and begin new chapters in their lives. These young adults are at the top of their games. They know all sorts of stuff that I have forgotten, and a lot of things that I never even knew in the first place.

They can easily solve a complex quadratic equation for “x” in less than a minute. And they can skillfully weave fancy words like “compendious” into casual conversation.

Impressive, right?

Don’t we live in a smart world? Even our phones are “smart.”

But in such advanced times, I worry that our world has forgotten the basics—simple concepts like manners, faith and friendship.

We have developed technology to instantaneously send computer messages to someone across the globe, yet we have forgotten how to look people in the eyes when speaking with them when they are right in front of us.

No matter how advanced we get, we must take care not to become “know-it-alls.” Everyone has something to learn and something to teach. There are some lessons that may never show up on a syllabus, but we must learn them if we want to live well. Those things include how to best express love to others, how to forgive and how to embrace the person that God made us to be.

If we hadn’t lost sight of such simple truths, the world probably wouldn’t be in its current state of disarray.

St. Paul said it well. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge … but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

A good friend of mine, who is very accomplished by society’s standards, has a framed sign on her desk which puts it another way. The sign reads, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

When things in my life go awry, it is usually because I’ve lost sight of the basic principles of our faith—love and service—or I’ve fallen out of touch with God.

No matter how successful or accomplished we become, may God always be our anchor.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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