Growing up, each Christmas I would receive a calendar of The Far Side cartoons. While the humor of Gary Larson, the cartoonist, is not for everyone, it was the highlight of my Christmas stocking. One of my favorite depictions featured a guy in Hell carrying a wheelbarrow full of rocks, while two devils look down upon him. The man is happily whistling away while apparently everyone else in Hell, carrying the same load of rocks, is sweating profusely and about to collapse from the labor. Observing the whistling man, one devil remarks to the other, “you know, we are just not reaching that guy!”
I have often reflected upon that cartoon when difficulties arise and asked myself what did this guy know that the rest of us have missed? Perhaps, his inner strength is due to greater spiritual faith. Undoubtedly spiritual faith would make it much easier to handle any hellacious situation. Yet, even people of great faith can find it difficult to “whistle” or even manage a smile when they are going through hell in their own lives.
Over the years I have found that my ability to deal with the hell around me is directly related to my ability to deal with the hell within me. That is to say that the hell that we may now be confronting in our surrounding environment is much more difficult to handle when we are wrestling internally. Life has a way of scarring us internally as well as externally. When we internalize the hell we confront in life, it manifests itself in the destructive flames of self doubt, fear and guilt to name an important few. This internal hell can quickly and severely diminish our capacity to cope with external hell ahead of us.
External factors may wound our pocketbook or may scar our physical bodies but hell’s greatest power to impact our lives comes when we internalize it. In doing so, we can harm the most precious resource we have—the human heart. It is important for us to remember the human heart is a repository and as such we have to be mindful of what we put in it. If we internalize and retain too much guilt, self doubt and fear we can cloud our ability to see and receive the good in our lives, including God’s guiding hand.
The heart is the organ that gives us the capacity to love and to relate to life itself. The heart is also the key to understanding the teachings of Christ. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us that it is the quality of the heart that determines the quality of our life. Again and again, we are reminded that a pure and healthy heart will renew our spirits and bring us closer to God. When internally we are confident in our faith and when we are strong in our spirit, the light of God shines within us and guides us.
When we empty our hearts of the guilt, doubt and fears of the past, we make it easier to keep these internal destructive flames in check and in doing so we are able to better cope with the hell that confronts us externally. If we look closely, in faith and with a healthy heart, even in the worst moments of hell in our lives we can find the good. We can find the path. We can see the pinprick of light that will guide us out of the darkness to the far side of hell and we can do it whistling all the way!