Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Friday, May 25, 2018

Family life

In the olden days, if you had a personal problem, you went to your parish priest, especially if it was a family issue or a spiritual matter. I’ve done that a number of times over the years and was always satisfied with the results – even when I heard what I didn’t really want to hear.

For everything else, from career questions to money problems to adolescent acne, you could rely on your guidance counselor, your gym teacher, your best friend, a psychotherapist, your brother or sister, your Scout leader and in extreme circumstances your parents.

Your parents, however, usually made the problem worse by blaming you if something went wrong. But times have changed. We’re more enlightened.

Now, everybody has a “life coach.” I’m not entirely sure what a “life coach” is, but I keep reading about them. I suspect it’s someone who helps you make it through life without too many breakdowns, too many breakups and too many bankruptcies.

One self-described “life coach” I read about was in her 30s. This woman, who’d studied at an Ivy League college, was sort of a Martha Stewart/Sigmund Freud/Billy Graham for young people and offered tips like “100 reasons why you have to love yourself more,” “8 reasons why you’re smarter than everyone else and deserve a promotion with a hefty raise,” “50 ways to love yourself” – 48 of which involve bubble baths – and “13 ways to get ahead of other people who are trying to get ahead.”

Her advice had a lot to do with self-esteem, which became a very popular concept in America around the 1980s and has persisted to this day, when we try to convince every kid they can grow up to be like their role models, Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. Heaven help us.

Whatever happened to old-fashioned pastoral counseling? Whatever happened to the people who thought that the most important goal in life should be to grow spiritually, not achieve “self-actualization” or nirvana or be named to the Forbes list of the 100 richest people?

I’m not suggesting you can’t get good advice from “life coaches” in their 30s, but if I had to choose, I think I’d opt for the monk in his 70s, who’d led a long and holy life and saw a lot of suffering – and also saw God’s plan in it.

We never had opportunities like this in the old days. No therapy, no medication, no positive reinforcement. Yes, there were a lot of troubled people walking the streets, but I think there are more today, despite all the resources. And we were never big on the “self-esteem” stuff, which, while it’s helpful in many cases, can also lead to narcissism, a widespread spiritual affliction of our age.

One challenge I face is that I’ve never been good with self-esteem, probably because I grew up in an alcoholic home and the compliments were few and far between, and my father’s idea of “coaching” was to give you a slap when you messed up and call you “knucklehead.”

I should add that once he got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, he actually became a sort of life coach and would even say things like “A day at a time” and “Live and let live” and “First things first.” And you know what? It made a lot of sense.

The crazy thing is, I already have my own life coach – someone who takes great interest in telling me how to live, what to eat, what to wear, how to spend my money – it’s my wife. No charge for services. For all other matters, I turn to Jesus.

Most people don’t recognize that their problems inevitably are spiritual in dimension, and can be solved with spiritual practices and by getting directions from a compassionate person who leads a religious life … and by turning to Jesus.

The greatest advice that I ever got in my life wasn’t from a counselor or a life coach. It was from a nun I went to see when I had some problems with faith and my life. Her advice was simple and profound and holds the secret to everything we need to know: “ALL the answers lie in the tabernacle.”

You would be hard-pressed to convince many cultural Catholics of that, which is probably why Jesus often takes a backseat to New Age gurus. But if you want a life coach who will never let you down, turn to Christ.

If you have a problem and want answers to important questions, go into a quiet church, sit silently in front of the tabernacle and listen. You may not hear the answer with your ears, but Jesus will put the answer in your heart. And you can be sure the answer won’t be “50 ways to love yourself more.”

All the answers to life lie in the tabernacle.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.