Upward and Onward

By Debbie Shannon, Director of Ministries and Development, St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center

I recently heard a clever fable about a farmer whose mule fell into a well. Since he had no way to get him out, and figuring he was a goner anyway, the farmer decided to just bury him there. He got a truckload of dirt and dumped it on top of the mule. But instead of lying down under it, the mule started kicking and snorting until he worked his way on to the top of it.

The farmer soon returned with another load and dropped it in as well.  Again, the donkey snorted, kicked and climbed aboard his bigger pile of dirt.  This continued all afternoon. Truckload after truckload, the mule just kept shaking it off and stepping on top of it. Finally, when the dirt reached the top of the well, the mule just snorted and walked away, a dirtier but wiser mule.

What was intended to bury him, just brought him out on top.

I recall with great fondness the conversation my husband had with one of our daughters one semester when she was thinking of dropping out of college. Her grades were in the cellar and she was sure she was going to fail two of her major courses. He told her the story of his own semester of failure that, at midterm, looked hopeless. He decided to go back and reread each of his textbooks from the beginning to get a better handle on what was eluding him. He went from failing at midterm, to the only semester he made the ‘Dean’s List”. Our daughter was inspired, but still a bit hesitant it would matter. Nonetheless, she returned to school with a stubborn determination and finished the semester (the only one) on her university’s “President’s List”. She did not drop out, but changed majors and excelled from that point on.

On his way to Rome, St. Paul was shipwrecked on an island. As he was gathering firewood a snake attached itself to his arm. What did he do? The Bible says he “shook it off.”

When proclaiming the Good News and encountering rejection, Jesus gave his disciples this advice:

“As you enter a house, wish it peace.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.  Whoever will not receive you, or listen to your words – go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (Matthew 10:12-14)

There’s an important lesson for us in all of these stories. You can either dwell on the past, or shake it off and move toward the future God has planned for you. St. Paul, was a man with a past, but he wrote,

“…forgetting what lies behind, but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14)

That doesn’t mean that St. Paul ever forgot his past, he just shook it off and kept going. You say, “But I’ve failed so badly.” The Bible says, “Your sins I remember no more.” (Isaiah 43:25b) Sometimes forgiveness requires a healing process, but until you make the decision to forgive yourself and others, and “shake it off,” the process can’t even begin.

Climb up on that pile of dirt, and walk away – toward a future of hope!


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