Good advice

We get lots of advice all through our lifetime. And it comes from many different venues. For example: advice on the best schools, places to live and vacation, and places to dine. If you buy a book on Amazon, watch a movie on Netflix, or do anything online, they are quick to advise you on other books to purchase, movies to watch, or what’s next in your life. Go to a brick-and-mortar book store and check out the self-help section for a universe of advice. Every aspect of our lives is a portal for advice; consider fashion advice. I have to admit I don’t pay too much attention these days. These days, my wardrobe consists of a basic brown Franciscan habit and minimal accessories – a knotted white cord to be precise. Still, it is all difficult to avoid in the course of a day.

But among barrage of advice circulating through our lives, there are some gems. I suspect the best advice does not come from self-help books, but the advice that changes our lives comes from people. People who know us and have insights into our heart’s desire, know the direction and heading of our life path, and who care for us.  People who just might know us better than we know ourselves. It is often great advice – and yet, for reasons explicable and not, we do not take the advice.

So…. what was the best advise you ever received and did not take? I asked this of a group of people this week and received some funny, touching, and sometimes sad stories. I think the question evokes a lifetime of little vignettes. For example…

When I was four years old I was scientifically exploring the spatial orientation of electromagnetic flux, materials suited for high capacity electron transmission, and sustained tension and strain in curved geometric objects. I was advised not to do this. It was good advice. But ya’ know…. a bobby pin, splayed apart just right will indeed fit into an open wall socket.  I should have taken the advice.

There was a freight train that daily passed about a mile from the house. I was advised not to play near the tracks. I think it was understood not to hop a ride on the train. I should have taken that advice.

I was told to always put a lock on my bicycle. I should have taken that advice.

While in Kenya, during an election year, I was advised to not wander down the street to get a closer look at that riot. I should have taken that advice.

It was all good advice.  Makes you wonder why I did not heed it.

Of course, no advice really prepares us for everything in life. Such as sudden bad health news. Or death. Or an accident. Or the random, unpredictable actions of others. But we do have advice that helps us prepare for the future. Meteorologists can warn of hurricanes… and yet some people stubbornly stay put only realizing their error as they are swept away in the tidal surge and relentless winds. Doctors warn of the health risks of a high fat diet and smoking, but that doesn’t change the behavior of many. Financial advisors warn us to plan for retirement and not live beyond our means. It is quite easy to fly in the face of good advice and end up unprepared for a future event we were warned about.

And those are just people. How about God? Now we are talking about someone who know us and has the ultimate insights into our heart’s desire, knows the direction and heading of our life path, has a plan for us, and who knows us better than we know ourselves. And God has sent us our own spiritual adviser, John the Baptist who this Sunday advises us to prepare the coming of the kingdom of heaven: “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:10).  A little forceful, but hey, that seems like good advice from a prophet, a herald, one upon whom the Spirit of God rest, who cries out from the desert, “Prepare a way for the Lord.”  Prepare our lives, our hearts, our very being for the coming of salvation, redemption, for the coming of the Christ child. Be mindful to bear good fruit.

Good advice. Great advice. We are on our 8th day of Advent.

And the question that linger is whether any of us have taken the advice. I wonder if every Advent, the answer to the question: “What was the best advise you ever received and did not take?”  is “Prepare a way for the Lord.” And yet so often we do not heed the advice because we have so many things to do, to get done, to then ensure it all gets done, and then fret about how much we have left to do.  We blink and Advent is over.

Here is some advice from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service. Try to give unconditionally whatever a person needs in the moment. The point is to do something, however small, and show you care through your actions by giving your time… We are all God’s children so it is important to share His gifts. Do not worry about why problems exist in the world – just respond to people’s needs… Some say [that] will diminish the responsibility of the government towards the needy and the poor. I don’t concern myself with that, because governments do not usually offer love. .. God has been so good to us: works of love are always a means of becoming closer to God. Look at what Jesus did in His life on earth! …We feel what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less without that drop.”– Mother Teresa of Calcutta

So, there it is, advice for today that I hope we all take to heart:  do something, however small, and in that simple act of love, come closer and prepare a way and a place for the Christ Child who comes.

It is good advice.  It is great advice. It is already the 8th day of Advent.

Prepare a way for the Lord. Amen

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