17 June, Friday — Listen to your heart

Friday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time

2 Kgs 11:1-4,9-18,20
Mt 6:19-23

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus, in his sermon on the Mount, warns us against becoming too caught up in earthly things that we forget about the heavenly treasures that await us. Indeed, the things mentioned in the gospel are probably familiar to us. The things we hoard end up rusted, corroded, moth-eaten, mouldy, or stolen. We had witnessed the great toilet paper panic buying (apparently it can become mouldy?!), and are now seeing a small-scale chicken panic buying. We may deride panic buying as silly or selfish but if we think hard, we will be able to identify something for which we too will ‘panic buy’ so as to remain on par with everyone else, or rather, what we presume everyone else has.   

There was a photo circulating around social media of a sign that read, ‘There is a 0.0296% chance that your child will become a professional athlete. There is a 100% chance that your child will stand before Jesus. Get them to church‘.  I assume this sign was meant to remind us of what is eternally important as opposed to what is only temporarily important, if it is important at all. And not only does this reminder apply to our children, it also applies to us.  

The signboard photo struck a chord with me. My older child just had her first ever school examinations. While I tried to make her revise, her strong aversion to schoolwork meant we ended up with a very bare minimum revision schedule that included a work-free, fun-filled staycaytion the weekend right before her assessments. The school parents WhatsApp chat was awash with messages about stress, results, tuition and the like. Admittedly, I fretted about whether to send her for more tuition if her grades showed that she needed help (disclaimer: both my children, even the kindergartener, already attend Chinese enrichment classes because I absolutely cannot help them there). 

In the end, I decided there was no need to add to her stress with more tuition at her age. She is a child, not just a student, and needs to live accordingly. What I should do is to teach values — let her learn about effort and results, about consequences of her actions, about perseverance and resilience.  Instilling values in her may have greater returns in the long run anyway, than signing her up for extra classes.  

There is a lot of talk now about prioritising values over academics, which is something I never heard much of during my childhood. We also tend now to let our children freely explore their interests and hobbies, which means they get to spend more time on the fun stuff instead of schoolwork. At least to me, this is a marked change from when I was a child and we were all about attaining the ‘5C’s — cash, car, credit card, condominium, country club membership. There was so much emphasis on getting good grades, getting into a good school, and getting a good job so that you could afford all the things you ever wanted — those were the treasures to be pursued. It is a good thing that we are moving away from this, and that schools are also moving away from overemphasising grades and focusing on instilling values. As a parent, I am totally on board.

However, this actually takes a lot of effort because it is very easy to get sucked into the tiger/bulldozer/helicopter parenting trap, especially when almost everyone else is doing it. Fear of losing out is real, and we certainly do not want to ‘fail’ our children; and so, we jump on all the bandwagons. But in doing so, we run the risk of truly failing our children by not giving them the time and space to be and express themselves. By not teaching them fundamental values by which they can independently grow and learn. By putting the teaching of our faith at the bottom of the priority list for an overscheduled child, if at all. This can also apply to the grown ups — it is not too late to take a step back from the madness of the rat race and let your heart lead you for a bit. This is considered ‘self-care’, and is there anything more important than turning our hearts to God to let Him care for us?

We do tend to focus a lot on earthly treasures, presumably due to an innate fear of losing these treasures and the practical security they bring. This usually means we end up forgetting about the heavenly treasures. Just what are these heavenly treasures? I’m not entirely sure, but it is not likely a hoard of gold and gems. Perhaps Heaven itself is the treasure. Perhaps it is the good we do. There are also intangible things here on earth that are more precious than actual monetary wealth or fame or power. These are the things that we also tend to forget about while in pursuit of earthly treasures — our faith, our family, children, parents, friends, health.

While we try to fulfil our hearts’ desires, our hearts are still restless because we have forgotten to seek God and, as a result, neglected the truly important treasures. The band Extreme have a song called ‘Hole Hearted’, which gives off some St Augustine vibes as they lament how unfulfilling and empty the pursuit of material desires can be. “Life’s ambition occupy my time. Priorities confuse the mind. Happiness one step behind. This inner peace I’ve yet to find……There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you. And this hole in my heart can’t be filled with the things I do”.

The key takeaway from today’s gospel for me, is to recognise what is truly important, and to make the effort to be guided by that important thing. In secondary school, I had a catechist who always told us to abide by this adage: “God is my number 1”. We need to always keep God in sight. Everything else will fall into place even if the world tells us otherwise or considers us foolish for it. Actually, the Ten Commandments would already cover quite a fair bit. God, family, friend and neighbour. It is ultimately the relationships between us and God, and between us and other people that are to be treasured. 

And this can only make perfect sense when we accept the heavenly treasure that awaits us. Are we able to make this paradigm shift to place God front and center in our hearts, and to follow his guidance and do his will? Are we willing to take the risk and veer off the worldly path on which everyone else seems to be? Are we ready to put our trust and faith in God’s plan for us instead of giving in to fears about our material future? With God firmly in our hearts, we can be guided by Him as we navigate through life and all its tempests. It may seem strange, but I do believe that placing God first will have a positive knock-on effect on the relationships we have with the important people in our lives.  

(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)

Prayer: Father, help us to recognise what is truly important in our lives, and to give us the grace and strength to treasure these and work towards Your heavenly kingdom.

Thanksgiving: Father, we thank You for lavishing Your love on us, and for the gift of Heaven.  

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