When I went looking for work in high school, I was fortunate to land a job at a family-owned pet store. Over the course of my three years of employment there, I not only learned about pet care, but also important lessons about customer service and hard work.
As a locally owned business, our store competed with larger retailers who could consistently offer better prices, so our task was to offer exceptional service to every customer who came through the door, which would in turn add value to the products we sold.
The high standards of service expected of each employee were matched with a desire that we use downtimes in the store to clean, stock, and become better acquainted with the care of the animals we sold and supported.
One of my lingering memories is that if you were unwilling to work hard and offer exceptional customer service, you didn’t last long as an employee at our store. If it could be said that I have a good work ethic today, it’s due in part to the time I spent working at the pet store.
The thing is, the desire to work hard and to serve others well could be seen not only through the lens of customer service – but also as a lesson for how we approach our life of faith.
Most people can trace their pilgrimage of faith to a particular moment where they encountered God, converted, and set off in a new direction. Others can pinpoint the period in their lives where they decided to make their parents faith their own. Regardless of how each of us gets there, at a certain point we take ownership of our faith and, like a new employee at my pet store, we have responsibilities we need to undertake.
While on the one hand, it’s completely unfair to compare our spiritual lives to being “employed by God” – the Gospel is very clear that He makes us His sons and daughters (see John 1:12), on the other hand, we are consistently challenged to move beyond this initial commitment or choice and to become holier (better) people.
The hope is that someday we can say alongside St. Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The problem is, many of us stagnate between the initial decision and the experience of crucifixion. We become complacent because we decide we’re too busy to pray, we know enough about God, or we feel that we’re holy enough. We rationalize that we aren’t as bad as we used to be, or as someone else is now, and ultimately, we avoid the difficult parts of Christian living and settle where we are. This is complacency … and it would likely have gotten me fired from the pet store. Jesus has a pretty stern warning about this:
“I know your works: I know that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were hot or cold. So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. -Revelation 3:15-17
The real danger with complacency isn’t that we’re going to get fired or suspended as God’s followers: it’s that we’re going to discover that we are lukewarm, desensitized, and far away from the Lord … or in Jesus’ words it is we who are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. As St. Padre Pio explains it: “In the spiritual life one must always go on pushing ahead and never go backwards; if not, the same thing happens as to a boat which when it loses headway gets blown backwards with the wind.”
So, how do we battle complacency?
It starts by going back to the lessons I learned in the pet store. When it comes to our spiritual lives, we need to open ourselves to deeper union with the Lord in prayer, and to allow Him to feed us – soul and mind – in the Eucharist and in the ongoing study of our faith.
When, as everyone does, we fail and fall short, we need to take full advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the fresh start He offers us. We need to learn to consistently and deliberately put others’ needs ahead of our own, staying aware of what Catherine Doherty – founder of the Madonna House Apostolate – calls “the duty of the moment.” In all that you do, don’t allow complacency to distract you from the life to which you’ve been called: the life of a saint.
— Mike Landry is chaplain to Evergreen Catholic Schools west of Edmonton, and serves as an occasional guest speaker and music minister in communities across Western Canada. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain, Alta. with their five children.