Spirituality for Today – March 2009 – Volume 13, Issue 8

Side Effects

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Prescriptions in hand, sufferers all over the world leave doctors' offices and trudge over to their pharmacies for the medications that will remedy their illnesses. Relief turns to dread when they discover that undesired information known as Side Effects. One may realize these conditions in the cautionary comments made by the announcer in a commercial advertising the latest wonder drug: "Taking this product may cause dizziness, nausea, or fainting. Do not use this product if you suffer from high blood pressure, kidney disease, a liver ailment, or if you are pregnant or may become pregnant (or live in an area where it is sunny on Tuesdays)." These warnings may compel one simply to let nature take its course.

A photo of a quiet and empty lake and one small dock over the water

Fitting to this season of penance, would it not be advantageous to be informed beforehand of the many side effects of the decisions one makes in life? How beneficial it would be to be given good consul regarding the glories and the pitfalls of pursuing one's dreams. If only some guardian angel would enlighten people about their characters and abilities, their strengths and frailties, and thus help poor souls to discern the wisdom in pursuing certain desires and letting others pass. In a manner, parents, relatives, clergy, friends, teachers, and counselors may act in this role. The willingness to heed their advice is another matter. Yet, journeying through one's days armed with accurate insights into self-awareness would be a boon for anyone.

Gathering information about a profession of interest is a fairly easy task. Suppose additional information about the mental, emotional, and physical demands of that profession also was available. One could measure the cost of pursuing a vocation in light of other lifestyle considerations and assess whether or not one has the personality and fortitude to succeed. Certain professional and personal choices, once considered attractive, may include too many undesirable factors or may exclude too many desirable ones. There is a scene from the original television series Star Trek where Spock makes the potent observation, "Wanting may be better than having. It is illogical, but often true." How important an asset to be able to see the whole picture?

Let us conclude that this foreknowledge is seldom the reality. Bright-winged fantasies often sweep aside due diligence. All aspirations bear ecstasies and also headaches. The trick is to choose the right ones. We fail at this work at our own peril. Someone once said, "If the average person were to give a commensurable kicking to the one responsible for most of his troubles, he couldn't sit down for a week."

"A man should go where he will not be tempted."
– Thomas More

In truth, even with the application of a strenuous effort of discovery, there are too many unpredictable factors and events beyond our control to guarantee satisfaction and contentment at the end of the road. What is possible, however, is forming a strongly principled conscience and living a persistently God-centered life. These are not preachy ideals or illusory objectives, but an achievable goal doomed only by a lack of faith and a weak will. Grace and sin are a part of the very air we breathe. Our decisions reflect which one abides in us. Interestingly, our vulnerabilities and changeableness reveal less about the futility of our striving and more about where light is needed. In Robert Bolt's play on the life of Saint Thomas More A Man for All Seasons - a work that captures the essence of this article - More offers the following career advice, "A man should go where he will not be tempted." This is a statement on morality. One needs to know the difference between a temptation and an opportunity. The keys to that knowledge are the operative principles residing in one's conscience; the values that dictate the rectitude of one's choices. It is in this context that the saying that what one worships one becomes holds sway.

What about the side effects? One might assume that those who followed an evil, self-serving, no-holds-barred lifestyle reaped a miserable, wasted, and ruined end. While those who followed a virtuous path finished fulfilled and happy. As we know, many a jail cell is occupied by the miscreant, but so is many a luxury suite in a five star hotel. The good person may have harvested the pleasures of life or may have suffered a lifetime of injustice. Material circumstances and life's vicissitudes notwithstanding, the way their lives touched others produced their legacies, their side effects. The success of their lives before God rests on those results. The testimony of the men and women affected by either category of these individuals mentioned tells the tale.

In the final analysis, there are the side effects of the ones who felt remorse for their sinful acts and gratitude for the good they had given through God's grace and the ones who celebrated their sinfulness and rejoiced for all they had taken. It is well that we have this time to reflect, to examine who we are and what we are. Taking a theme from a poem by Frost, perhaps with every choice we stand before two roads diverging and maybe the difference is not so much which road we take, but what we take with us.