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I do what I want to do.
I used to think it was a problem. I used to think, “Gosh, isn’t it selfish to do whatever I want to do?” I came to a very surprising conclusion: no, it is not selfish to do whatever I want to do, as long as what I want is truly good.
Why are children not allowed to do whatever they want to do? Because what they want, usually, is not truly good. They want to eat cookies until they puke (I did), they want to stay up so late that they can’t function the next day (I did), and they hate doing homework because they would rather play video games (I did). Thus, a parent is needed to correct the false wants of the child.
My Mom: “No, Tony, you shouldn’t eat a whole package of Oreo cookies.”
Tony: “But WHY? I WANT to eat them!”
My Mom: “Because you will barf all over your self, and then I will have to clean it up. And you will become a sugar-injected terror for two hours. These are not good things.”
Thus, the parent corrects the desires of the little child.
(I did buy a package of Oreo cookies, and I did eat the whole package. And I did barf it all up. It was a complete mess.)
However, when you become an adult, you truly can do whatever you want. Sure, somebody might tell you “their opinion”, or you might have family members who think it is their job to live their life through yours, but you still can do whatever you want. Stay up as late as you want. Eat as many Oreos as you want. Write blog posts as long as you want. Do whatever you want to do.
Only, we sometimes find out that what we want to do is not truly good.
How do we know whether or not what we want is truly good? When you are a child, you shouldn’t do things that cause you to barf all over your self. This is still a good rule for adulthood. In fact, I live by this general creed: “I, Tony Hollowell, after having figured this out of my own accord, do hereby solemnly swear to not do things that cause me to barf all over my self.”
Once I removed things that caused me to literally barf on myself, I was able to probe deeper. I began to ask myself, “What do I truly want? What will make me joyful?” Well, I looked all around me and at all that I was doing, and I discovered another shocking truth: almost everything that I was doing was not making me joyful. I’m not talking about some reality that needs to be described in complex metaphysical terms. I am just talking about, well, JOY. I was joyful on Christmas morning. I was joyful when playing in the woods. I was joyful riding my bike. Why, at the age of 20, was I not joyful? Maybe I was “happy”, but I wasn’t joyful. I had a small hole inside me, and it seemed to be growing.
For my first two years of college, I did whatever I wanted, and yet, in the end, I wasn’t truly joyful. Yes, I still laughed. I still watched funny movies. I stayed up late and played HALO until my eyes were blood shot. But inside, I felt less than what I should be. I was restless. I was, in all honesty, somewhat empty. I had become like the little child: I ate every Oreo in the bag, and in the end, I just barfed all over myself.
It was in this moment that I discovered something: I need someone to tell me what to want. I needed a parent to lead me and guide my desires. I had tasted empty, and it tasted like barf. I needed someone to teach me what to desire. I needed a parent, but I wasn’t going to move back in to my parents’ house and have them babysit me. Really, what I needed was God.
My life really is that simple. If someone where to ask me, “Why do you live a life that assumes the existence of God?”, I would answer them with just this phrase: “Because I did not have fun barfing on myself.”
For me, reality was the greatest medicine I could possibly taste. If it is true that “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God”, then it is true that our heart will never be filled until we seek to do God’s Will. Notice I didn’t say, “until we seek to believe in God.” Hell, many people believe in God. I believed in God, but that didn’t stop me from barfing all over myself. No, belief in God will not cure your desires. Only God Himself can cure your desire. Only God Himself can show your heart what is truly good. I decided to find out for myself if I could do things on my own, if I could steer my own path, if I could find the path to happiness by ignoring the demands of the King of Joy. I failed miserably. And so I follow a long line of sinners and saints, people who spent part/some/most of their life ignoring God and doing whatever they wanted, and then barfed on themselves.
I hate rules. I always have. I always will. This was a great obstacle in my life to following any creed, especially the Catholic Faith. I didn’t want to be “tied down”, I didn’t want someone to tell me what to do, I didn’t want something to get in my way. So I embarked on what became the great irony of my life: I didn’t do what God wanted because I thought it would tie me down, but in the end, I merely strapped my own soul to the rack. I tied it down with my own bare hands. I cinched the nots into my wrists until they bled. I tightened the buckles and pulled them taught, lustfully pursuing every individualistic desire that happened to float across my mind and heart. In my desire to “do whatever I wanted”, I did not become free. I became a slave. I sold my soul to my own selfishness, to my own wants, to my own vision of happiness, and this “individualistic” vision made me a miserable wreck.
But then I prayed to my King. I told my Him, “God, I think I was made for more than this. Help me.”
And He did. And He showed me a better way. His way. And I haven’t looked back.
My mom told me once, “If you do not do what God wants, you will be miserable.” Heard at the age of 21, this comment seemed idiotic. Reflecting on it at the age of 28, it has become a fundamental truth in my life. I prefer to re-write this phrase: “If you do not do what God wants, you will barf all over your self.” And He seems to be terribly patient, waiting 10, 20, 30, 50, 80 years, allowing people to discover for themselves their own misery. He never grows weary of letting us sink our own ships and then coming in to save us.
I am thinking about all of this because it is Advent, when we get to celebrate the coming of our King. We have a distorted idea in our society and in our hearts: we think that we can create Joy without God. But my own heart and my own path tell me this is false. And all of humanity groans in quiet desperation for the coming of a King to save us. We are tired of being consumed by our own emptiness, and at some point, we have to throw out our hand to something to save us. Drowning in our own selfishness, reaching through the icy waters of restlessness, the King has come to set us free.
G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls, but they are the walls of a playground.” I have finally found the ultimate playground. I am like Andy DuFresne from Shawshank Redemption, and I am living in Zihuataneho. I have traded my prison for a playground. My God is the ocean and the beach, and my Catholic Faith is the boat. And everyday, I get to go exploring.
And people wonder why I am always smiling.