Need a 'no-fine week'?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

My library books were due on Monday, but I didn't have time to return them. On Tuesday I couldn't leave work to run errands. On Wednesday, when I returned the books, I was told that there would be no fine for overdue books, because it was "no-fine week" - a little window of amnesty for those tardy in returning their books. Oh boy, I thought. If I'd known that, I would have finished that last short story and returned the book even later.

Then I thought how great it would be if I could have a "no-fine week" on everything. My fantasy of eating boxes of chocolates while reading books in bed, and avoiding the phone, work, etc., was appealing. Yes, it would get old after a while, but in the meantime .... On the other hand, what if the rest of the world took a no-fine week? No fair, I thought. This is my fantasy; let the world keep chugging away around me.

Still, it did make me think. Here it is - a new year - and many people have made resolutions. Maybe instead of no-fine week, I need a "no-excuse life." Had I allowed my feeling stressed over the many challenges of 2001 to be an excuse for indulging in whatever temptations came along? My emotions and the people I encounter in everyday experiences have felt much closer to the surface. I want to hug everybody one minute, and yet, it's a struggle to not snap at someone over trivial things like long lines at the post office. It was like wanting a note from Mom giving permission to "stay home" from being my highest, most disciplined self, instead of facing my weaknesses.

In the weeks and months following Sept. 11, I needed an extra push of inner resolve to keep going on as usual. My reluctance to go to the gym for my aqua class is one example. I could almost hear my inner whine, "Do I have to?" Then the excuses: parking would be hard, it's cold out, I didn't sleep well. Couldn't I just stay home? By showing up for class, though, I felt an inward triumph, and the rewards were evident. First, I realized I was there for far more than exercise. As we all filed into the pool, I somehow felt our support for one another during those difficult days.

Jean, the teacher of the class, has always been very peppy. There are days when I just want everyone to be as grumpy as I feel, but Jean is a relentlessly cheerful and demanding camp counselor. The tape recording for class is always the same, so we all know the order and words of the songs. Here we were, working out to a song with lyrics, "When you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you." I was so grateful for the sameness of the experience - Jean yelling her commands and cheering us on, the tape, the water, my friends. Some things were the same in a world that felt so different.

Showing up is half the battle, I've always heard. What that means to me applies to little things such as coming into work when you really don't feel like it, or expressing patience when you'd rather react.

The woman who founded this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, knew great personal adversity, yet she wrote: "If your endeavors are beset by fearful odds, and you receive no present reward, go not back to error, nor become a sluggard in the race.

"When the smoke of battle clears away, you will discern the good you have done, and receive according to your deserving" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 22). Our ability to be "faithful over a few things" (see Matt. 25:21) may seem too small to impact larger global issues. But each day we can prove that nothing can disrupt or destroy what God gives. Just as we can depend on His faithfulness and trustworthiness never to go on a vacation, we can be true to Him by expressing not the lowest, but the highest of our nature and identity.

A no-excuse life, not a no-fine week. Make the effort - every week, day, moment. You may not know what your small act of courtesy or kindness, or even just carrying on, may inspire in another. We can feel the strength that comes from facing the day with an expectation that it will bring out the best in us and in others.

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