For her birthday, I bought my wife a Fitbit. One of those things you put on your wrist or shoe or whatever to help you attain your fitness goals. And, quite honestly, it has worked for her. She’s more conscious of her weight, her sleep patterns, and vigorously tries to attain her step totals on a daily basis. There are people in her office who have them, too. And it’s created a competitive atmosphere. So much so that during conversations around the water cooler, at lunch, or at various meetings throughout the day there’s always the anticipated question: “how many steps have you got?”
I recently read a news story where republicans and democrats in Washington, congressional staffers and senate aides and such, have an ongoing competition on how many miles they’ve attained walking or running between committee meetings. It’s nice to see that something inside the beltway is actually being accomplished, albeit on a personal fitness level.
But, I got to thinking that the Fitbit phenomenon might help us in our prayer life, our commitment to the sanctity of marriage, even our entire profession of faith.
Well, yeah. Give me a moment to explain. Just what does the Fitbit or any such device actually do?
It pangs the conscience. It nags. It’s a nudge. It makes you feel guilty, doesn’t it? It’s not just a reminder of what you must do, what you swore to accomplish, as in a New Year’s resolution. It’s a nanny reminding you to brush your teeth or wash your face each and every day. And you’ll rue the day if you do not fulfill its commands – because those commands are your own commitments.
So, it’s guilt?
Guilt, oh, how I hate that word. As Catholics, we’ve heard far too much about “Catholic guilt.” I googled it and wound up at a porno site (please, don’t try this, that’s how far ex-Catholics have gone to completely obliterate their faith).
As an American of Irish decent, I’ve been hammered with the false premise of “Catholic guilt” all my life. But, it’s a chimera. It’s not exclusive to Catholics. Personal feelings of guilt are prevalent in all peoples and in all beliefs: Protestant or Muslim or Jew or Hindu or Buddhist, agnostic or atheist, or anyone else.
Because every human being is born with it: it’s the Jiminy Cricket in all of us. It’s our moral compass. When we veer off course from the pole star of right and wrong and sail into uncharted shoals, risking our very souls, our innate, God-given, Fitbit kicks in. It’s what used to be called having a good conscience. Nasty things aren’t they. Why can’t they just leave us alone?
And we feel shamed. And we should. In the same way my wife feels guilty by not reaching her step goals, our soul, our conscience being, gives us a wake-up call to amend and atone. Or at least to question ourselves as to the conduct of our behavior – even our very thoughts. Like the old Warner Brothers cartoons, where the good angel whispers in one ear and the bad demon in the other. Ugh! I’ve got to make a decision and I’d much rather not!
A good friend of mine, my boss actually, who perished in a tragic fire years ago, asked me a question the day before he died that I’ll never forget. We were in the habit of partaking in a couple of beers at a local haunt in the evening to kind of evaluate what we’ve been working on and put things into perspective. On that memorable day, as we left the office, he said to me “should we go and enjoy ourselves or do the right thing.” I immediately knew what he meant. It wasn’t a question, it was statement of fact.
He was single and went to the bar. I was married with kids and went home. What he was really telling me was that maybe I shouldn’t pursue happiness during “Happy Hour.” That my true joy was to be found at home with my family – that, this was my calling, my obligation, my vocation – in other words, my real job. Sometimes, guys really don’t have to use a lot of words when they’re speaking to each other. It was a Fitbit moment. Those were the last words I heard him utter.
Oft times, Catholics are criticized by fellow Christians for repetitive prayer. I mean the rosary. What nonsense, they think. How can you just repeat over and over the Ave? How boring? How unconnected to a real relationship to Our Savior?
But, this is another Fitbit moment. And they’d be right if we’re just monotonously reciting and not actively engaged and living the scriptures; which is the holy backbone of the mysteries of the rosary. It would be like mindlessly walking around the block again and again just to rack up steps on our Fitbit. No, the rosary should be a challenge, both to our prayer life and to our quest to imitate what the mysteries contain and, ultimately, obtain what they promise. Like using a Fitbit when you run, or jog, or climb steps, or scale mountains as opposed to just counting your steps.
My wife says a wedding ring is like a Fitbit. It’s a constant, personal reminder of the holy and contractual pledge of matrimony. Not only that, the ring is also an outward sign to all the world that – hold on, honey – I’m taken.
For many people a nag is a drag, whether it comes in the form of a personal fitness device or a time-honored, never-changing principal.
Once you put on your Fitbit, you can’t look back. You have to keep moving.
“No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
So – walk, jog, run, bike, hike, climb the highest of hills or mountains to your heart’s content and for the health of your heart. Only know that every step you take doesn’t count if it doesn’t start with a firm footing in faith. We can’t progress on our journey to the kingdom without a constant reminder; a little jolt from above – about who we really are and how far we have to go, step by step.
A Fitbit can’t do that. Wish it could. But Jiminy Cricket can.