The Suffering Servant

There are many different sides of Jesus. Some of this is evident in the list of qualities I made a while back, but there are other ways to look at Jesus too. Jesus can be thought of as a real man that took charge of every situation and fought back evil whenever it presented itself. Another side is the great, wise sage who taught people the true faith and set in motion the eternal Catholic Church. I have found that I most represent “the suffering servant” (Isa 53) in Jesus. As Messiah, Jesus had to suffer for the sake of others. While all Catholics are called to suffer for others, I feel like I have had to suffer a lot more than average.

From a young age (maybe age 14), I had lower energy than others. Whenever I was in a group, I usually became exhausted after just a few hours while everyone else had tons of energy. Most people were stronger than me too. I got really tired from what should have been easy things like a short bike ride. My muscles became weak and sore easily, and I would need a few hours to rest. Other than these minor problems, I was pretty healthy until shortly after college.

I developed social anxiety based on a false belief that strangers were all out to make fun of me. The anxiety was easy to ignore at first but eventually came to dominate my life. Anytime I was with other people I was nervous. The more people, the worse I felt. I was only comfortable with my parents, so I pretty much stayed at home. That same year, I developed digestive problems consisting of gas, bloating, stomach aches, diarrhea, and nausea. It started out just once a week but eventually became an almost daily problem.

Over the next five years, I developed a few more health problems each year until the present, where I have around 18 chronic problems. I typically have 4-5 problems each day. About half (51%) of my days I consider the suffering to be “bad”, 36% are “good” days, and around 13% are “horrible” days. My health problems are pretty random each day, but I can go into “remission” and “flare-up” phases, sometimes feeling really good for several days in a row or feeling really bad for several days instead. For the most part, the doctors have been stumped as to what’s causing all the problems. I’ve done all the tests for cancer and infections. Everything has come back negative. There is no explanation. It’s a mystery. Instead, our efforts have been in treating the symptoms, with limited success.

Because of the randomness of my problems, I never know how I will feel on any day. It’s hard to make plans with anyone, not knowing how I will feel on the day of the event. Working out of the house has become impossible. The Internet has become my way to socialize with others and work. I’m not able to make enough money to support myself, but I have been able to pay most of my personal bills like my student loan and health insurance. My parents help with the rest.

Obeying the call to serve others has been hard for me, so I had to be creative. I found that I could offer up my suffering to help others through the redemptive power of Jesus (CCC 618, 1502, 1505, 1521). I just offer it to Jesus to use as he sees fit. Many times I have offered suffering for loved ones in need, and it seems to help. There is no guarantee that this is happening, but sometimes it seems to be more than coincidence. That is enough for me. In addition to offering my suffering, I do a lot of praying for others. I also found the Internet to be a good way to communicate with others. One of the reasons I write this blog is to hopefully help the occasional person that happens across it online.

While my health problems caused me a lot of anger and sadness in the beginning, I’ve mostly learned to accept them. I can still have negative emotions, such as after a dream where I had perfect health, but I have learned to accept my bad health. I am really happy about my ability to help others through my suffering though. Everyone can pray and write about the faith — I’m not the only one — but very few people suffer as much as I do. Other people are stronger than me, make more money than me, get married, and countless other things, but I get to suffer more. It’s what makes me unique.

Sometimes I wonder if bearing my suffering patiently and offering it up is actually my calling. So far God has not given me any answer, so I will continue to work on treating my health problems and finding a way to support myself. I haven’t found any success yet, but I won’t give up. During my free time, I can pray, write things on this blog, and most importantly, offer up my suffering. That is enough for now. I greatly look forward to the end of suffering in heaven and my just reward for all I have endured.

Still, I suffer greatly many days and ask if you can find it in your heart to pray for me. So many days I feel absolutely horrible. Nothing on earth is pleasing but serving others. In the worst moments, I ask Jesus to take me to heaven with him, but he insists I continue to live and suffer. I need the help of your prayers. God can work through you to give me the grace of patience in suffering. You can make a real difference in my life. I am eternally grateful for any help you can provide and will remember your aid when we meet in heaven. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

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Social Anxiety

Because we live in a fallen world, we all have to deal with suffering in life. One thing I have suffered with is social anxiety. It’s only been a few years since I developed this problem, but it feels like it’s been much longer. One day I just started feeling nervous in social situations. Like most people I had a few embarrassing times while growing up, but they never caused me any problems. For some reason things were different now.

I mostly ignored the anxiety, thinking it would go away if I faced my fears. Before, I would worry about something, such as a new job, but after doing whatever I feared a few times, I got used to it. I would feel good again. This time was different. Over the months and years, I never got better. The opposite happened. I got worse. What started out as just an annoyance became so bad I rarely wanted to go anywhere. People became like a poison to my body. I didn’t want to be around anyone.

After a few years I looked into getting treatment for this, but there were obstacles. First, my insurance didn’t cover the treatment. At the time I wasn’t making enough money to pay for extra medical bills. Second, I knew there was no quick fix to this problem. Treatment mostly took the form of counseling to retrain the brain to not be nervous around people, medication for support. I was too interested in my video games though. I wasn’t ready to make a long term commitment like this. Lastly, I was really embarrassed about having this problem. I just didn’t want to tell anyone about it. I didn’t just keep ignoring my anxiety though.

I read all about this health problem. I learned several basic techniques for relaxation. They helped calm me down before and after stressful situations. Nothing helped in the middle of the situations, but I could at least have some control over the anxiety outside of them. I worked on finishing up all the things I had wanted to do in video games, so I would have no distractions when it came time for treatment. Eventually, I got over my embarrassment about the problem and was able to tell people I was having problems. With the obstacles gone, I was able to start counseling.

The counseling is still ongoing. My social anxiety has become so ingrained in my day-to-day life, I’m really not sure if it can be healed. I have some hope that I can feel a little better, but I also think I may have trouble with this for life. As much as I hate the suffering it has caused me, I am also grateful at how holy it has made me. Sometimes the only thing that got me through the suffering was constant prayer. That is still the case today. When it gets bad, I drop everything I can and pray as much as possible.

Without this suffering, I would have just continued spending all my free time doing selfish things. I remember before I would always think, “I’ll try to do better later when I’m older”. Now I realized there might not be a later. I might die young because of all the stress. I had to do better now. Still, it is so hard some days pushing through the suffering to everything I need to do. I feel even worse that most of these days there isn’t anything special going on. There’s no reason I should feel this bad, but I do. I will continue praying though, hoping to find healing someday.

The focus of The Catholic Optimizer is still to describe how to optimize yourself to become holier, so I won’t be writing much about this problem on the site. I will probably write about it occasionally, but it won’t be a regular thing. In general, I write about things I have some knowledge about, but I am helpless when it comes to social anxiety. Nothing I have tried has worked, so I have no hidden knowledge that would help anyone else with this problem. If I do write anything else about social anxiety, it will most likely just be a short update on any progress I have made.

Thanks for reading about my bad health. Please consider saying a prayer for me. Because of social anxiety and other health problems, I suffer greatly. I am eternally grateful for any grace I receive through your prayers and await our time in heaven when God will reveal how you have helped me. Do not feel obligated to do this, but I really need help. You can make a real difference in my life.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

The Games I Don’t Play

The vast majority of my Entertainment Thoughts are on video games. That’s because for most of my life, all I did was play video games. When I decided to cut back on game playing and focus more on the Catholic faith, I created a few rules for the types of games I would no longer play.

1. No gratuitous violence or sex.

This is really two rules rolled into one, but they are related enough for me to count them as one rule. I follow this rule not just for video games, but for all entertainment. If I feed my mind violent or sexual material, I at least become desensitized to what should be shocking. Going further, I may come to enjoy seeing these things or even become addicted to them. In the worst case, I may seek to take these things from fantasy into reality, acting out in the form of murder, adultery, fornication, or other related sins. This is a rule that all Catholics should follow, part of the ninth and tenth commandments, which deal with matters of not coveting sinful things.

The Witcher 3 is an example of one the games I avoided because of this rule. I’ve never played the game, but from my research the game was filled with brutal violence against both monsters and humans from limbs being severed to beheadings to torture and everything in between. Many of the women in the game were promiscuous, dressing immodestly and using their looks to take advantage of others. Some towns featured prostitutes. The player could get almost any of the digital, fantasy women in bed with their character if they wanted.

2. No endless games.

Many games these days are made to have vast amounts of progression for the player to go through. It keeps the player in the game longer. The developers hope the player will see good value in the game, making it an easier decision to buy the next game in the series. The problem is that many of these games can take 100s of hours to do everything. On top of that, many developers add downloadable content requiring even more time. Some of these games are online, where the network effect of having several friends playing keeps the player wanting to play ever more to keep up. I was trying to cut back on games, reduce how much time I spent with them. Just casually playing one of these games could take a year or more to finish. I had to avoid these games.

An example of a game I chose to avoid because of this rule is Diablo III. The game started off slow but after a few patches and an expansion, I really enjoyed the gameplay. It was just so fun to fight monsters and collect loot. I had big plans for my characters in the game. I had all kinds of fun items I wanted to find and skill combinations I wanted to try. There was the problem of time though. Doing all these things was going to take years of my free time to finish. That was too much of a sacrifice, especially for something (entertainment) that has no value in eternity.

3. No pay to play games.

One of the game genres I loved to play was massively multiplayer online role-playing games. These games had vast worlds to explore and thousands of other real human players to interact with. I just loved the scope. The fantasy worlds felt that much more real because of the size and all the people playing. Most of these games were extremely time consuming, so they would already fail the rule of “No endless games” above. Even more, many of these games had monthly fees. No matter what I did in the game, I would always have to pay some money to access the game. There was no way to reach a point where I could just play in peace. Having a monthly fee constantly made me feel like I had to play longer to get more value out of the money I spent. After all, I still had to pay the same amount whether I played 20 or 80 hours.

One of my favorite games I had to give up was World of Warcraft. I loved pretty much everything about the game, but I just couldn’t justify paying money every month. There were more than enough one-time fee games to entertain me. This rule also applies to the free-to-play games, which essentially require money to make any progress. Many of the “free” games try to fool players into thinking they can do everything for free. There are a small subset of these games where this is possible, but it is very rare.

4. No games without a pause and save feature.

One of the choices I made as part of becoming a better Catholic was being more available to family members. I hated it when I was trying to talk to someone and their attention was distracted due to media. I decided I wasn’t going to be the same. That meant I couldn’t be playing a game that had no pause functionality. If someone came up to ask me something, I needed to be able to pause the game and focus my attention on the real person standing there, not what was on the screen. In addition, what if the person invited me to do something? I wanted to have the option to drop whatever I was doing to spend time with family. The game needed to have the ability to save almost anywhere. Family is more important than any game. I want to always be available.

Many, many games violate this rule just because they are primarily online multiplayer games. An online game can’t have one player pausing the game and forcing everyone else to wait. If the game requires multiplayer, I can’t just save the game and come back exactly where I was. Everyone needs to be on the same page to play together. Because this rule would pretty much make all online and multiplayer games unplayable for me, I made one exception to this fourth rule. I can only play multiplayer games in person with friends and family. Parties and family get-togethers are when this is the case. Everyone is taking turns and watching others play. The game might not have a pause feature or the ability to save anywhere, but I am available to the people around me. In that situation I also don’t care about winning or losing. It’s all just for fun.

 

From now on, I follow these rules to the letter. With these rules in effect, I usually only play single player games. With how little I play them, each game lasts many months. This has also helped me save a lot of money, which I can use for more important things. The Catechism speaks of gaining self-mastery over our actions (CCC 2339). There are many areas of my life I am still working on, but video games (and entertainment in general) are not one of them. This continually makes me very happy knowing how much I used to adore games. Now I can focus on what really matters.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

What Being Catholic Means to Me

I was born into a Catholic family, but I really just went through the motions when it came to practicing the faith. I learned about religion in school, and my regular family activities involved going to church and receiving the Sacraments. I liked to please everyone, so I did what my teachers and parents wanted. Entertainment was what drove me though. Early on, it was toys like action figures and Legos, later it was movies and video games. I didn’t really care about anything but having fun. This remained the same until I graduated from college.

By this time video games had become my favorite source of fun. There was an endless amount of new games coming out, and I wanted to play them all. All my plans and goals were centered around games. I had lists of what I had done in existing games and what I wanted to do in the future with those games. I also had lists of all the future games I wanted to get and the things I wanted to do in them. In short, all I cared about was short term pleasure. When I got bored with one game, I always had another lined up to keep me entertained. This kept me busy in the moment, but one day I just felt like I needed to be doing more.

Since the only other thing I did regularly besides video games was go to church, I decided to focus on the Catholic faith. I immediately saw many ways to improve myself. While working on improvement goals, I became aware of the power of prayer. I also discovered that there was an endless amount of studying I could do about the faith. In addition to the Bible, there were countless writings by the Popes, Church Fathers, Saints, and fellow lay Catholics I could read and think about.

Just like there was always another video game to play, there was always another way to improve myself, another prayer to say, or another Catholic work to study. Unlike video games, which was just about short term pleasure, these activities were about the long term. These things would contribute to my salvation or the salvation of others. Going to heaven is a big deal, so these activities were all important. That made me really happy. I didn’t really know what I was looking for when I started focusing on the Catholic faith, but I found it. I was looking for purpose in my life.

Being Catholic means being part of something bigger than myself. This purpose drives all of my actions. I do have free time, where I just do what I want, but a lot of times I am thinking about how I can help myself or others get to heaven. I realize my actions can have a huge impact, mostly on myself but also on the few other people I am able to interact with during my life. I can’t be Jesus and help everyone, but I can help just a few people. All of my actions contribute to Jesus’ overall mission of saving souls.

Being Catholic means being part of a family. At the local level, I have my parish family that continually prays for all the needs in our community. At the national level, I have the U.S. clergy that are all working towards improving the sanctity of the country. At the global level, I have the Church in Rome directing the world towards holiness. Finally, there is the Communion of Saints at the spiritual level that encompasses everything. All of God’s children have a unique connection to each other, especially during prayer. I have all these people pulling for me to get to heaven. I am never alone. In addition, I always have a good friend to talk to in God.

Being Catholic means losing a lot of worries. I don’t have to wonder what I should be doing. I still have free will to decide how I will seek holiness for myself or others, but I always know right from wrong. I know what will lead me to holiness and what will hold me back. The faith allows me to ignore many useless short term things and focus on the things that have meaning in the long run. I don’t have to worry about death because I believe in eternal life. Just as a child goes through puberty to become mature, a person must go through death to go to heaven. I don’t have to worry too much about the future. I only have to make sure I am doing good in the present. The future will work itself out.

Being Catholic means understanding what true love is. It’s not about what I am getting out of the situation. It’s what I can do for others. I might not get anything in return during this life, but it will all be rewarded in heaven. God will give me something for my good actions. True love is sacrifice. That doesn’t mean I have to kill myself to help others, but I do need to be regularly expending energy for others in some way. It means always being able to love others even in the worst of times.

Being Catholic also means having high standards. The way of Jesus is very hard. I can’t just go through life doing whatever I want. I constantly work to avoid sin. Until I die I will never be able to truly rest. There are times when avoiding sin is easy, which can function as a time of rest, but avoiding sin is mostly a constant battle. In addition to avoiding sin, I also have to find opportunities to serve others. I can’t just keep to myself. I have to give back in some way. I push myself as much as I can with these things. Sometimes I work too hard on these things and have to force myself take breaks. This always reminds me of my human weakness, which I look forward to overcoming when I am purified in purgatory.

Despite how hard it is being Catholic, I absolutely love the faith. In good times and bad, it always keeps me going. I might not know exactly what God wants me to be doing, but I know what actions are good. I know the possible choices. Life is a lot easier without the pressure to make all these decisions alone. God and the Church are there helping me. Some days I’m more interested in the faith than others, but I never get truly bored. A lot of times I will be having a lot of fun with some entertainment, but it eventually ends. I become bored with it. That doesn’t happen with the faith. There is always something meaningful to do related to my Catholic faith.

No matter how secular the world becomes, I will never leave the faith. I love it too much. As long as I live, I will be doing my best to become a saint and help the people around me to do the same. Some of those efforts will be through this website, and some will be in other areas of my life, but I will always be participating in Jesus’ mission to save souls.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared