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How’s Your Schwarzenegger Impersonation?

About ten years ago, I had a major surgery that left me in need of some “major” physical therapy. For many months, I worked with a wonderful therapist, named Tony. It was such a positive experience in so many ways, the results of which impact my life every day. It’s funny though, one of the things that has stuck with me the most is a somewhat silly memory: It in was those times when I’d be struggling to do something, and Tony would launch into a fairly bad Arnold Schwarznegger impersonation and say, “You can do it!” It makes me smile just thinking of it! Impersonation aside, the encouragement was really valuable at a time when I wasn’t very sure of myself. Knowing of his experience and expertise, along with that assurance, helped me over my own hurdles of self-doubt. I firmly believe that kind of encouragement, from those with more experience and expertise, is exactly why God made humans as communal beings, and why Jesus encouraged a discipleship based upon community. 

One of the biggest blessings of involvement in a faith community is, first of all, the ability to interact with those who have lived through the same kind of struggles that we might be encountering for the first time. Their experience, as people of faith, allows us to witness the ways that faith can help us navigate the messiness of life. For example, one of the reasons that many of us pray to a particular saint is because of that saint’s experiences in life. Like, when I struggle in parenting, I pray to Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. I know that her sorrows far eclipse mine, yet, I also know that she has experienced the heartbreak that can accompany motherhood. I can see her steady commitment and faith in Jesus as an example to follow. It isn’t, however, just the “heavy hitters” in sainthood that I can look to, it is the older couple who have undergone much in their lives, yet there they are, in the pew every single week. When they tell me that they intentionally pray, by name, for those on their written list of prayer intentions, and that I am on that list, I learn about the power of a daily prayer commitment, and the bond that it can create in a marriage, as well as the impact on those they pray for. They have modeled a wonderful spiritual practice for me, and as we know, developing any virtue, or spiritual practice, is just like developing a muscle. It takes time and effort. Their daily commitment, furthermore, teaches me that I might feel weak now, but I’ll develop the skill the more I do it. Their example is an inspiration, and a nod to the idea that I “can do it” too.

Another aspect of this couple’s example of prayer, is the impact that it made when they shared the fact that they were praying for me. It was the knowledge that I wasn’t alone, and that others cared that carried me through a tough diagnosis and served as a huge source of encouragement. In an area where many of us barely know our neighbors, it is easy to think that we are alone but, being an engaged member of a faith community can, instead, provide that encouragement that all of us need. Having an opportunity for connection with other Catholics, can foster overt interactions of support for one another, but it can also provide subtler examples for us to follow. For example, seeing a family with their squirmy, little ones every week can provide the implicit “you can do it” that we might need to keep attending ourselves. Seeing other families as they bring their children to discipleship formation classes, time after time, lets us know that, just like developing a muscle, the “lift” gets easier the more we do it. 

I’ll conclude by saying that I hope, and I will pray (Yep. I mean it), that you can find the true sense of community in your “faith community.” I pray that by witnessing “experts” and even those simply struggling to develop the “muscles” of faith, you can find some inspiration to follow on this messy path called life.  Even more, I pray that you’ll find the encouragement of companionship with others who seek to follow Jesus, and who can offer the overt, “you can do it’s,” in the times when you need those words most – with, or without the attempt to sound like Arnold.