I recently got a reality check from a lemur in a kid’s movie. Or, rather, from Danny Jacobs, an actor who is the voice of King Julien, a lemur in the popular “Madagascar” series of movies.
Jacobs was a speaker at an event sponsored by DeSales Media Group — for whom I work — on what the church designates as World Communications Day.
A Catholic and former seminarian, Jacobs told the audience that “if you can love yourself the way God loves you, that is going to allow you to relax” even when you have a lot of things going on in life. Jacobs, the sixth of seven children, has worked on movies, commercials, video games and earned Emmys for his work, but he keeps what’s important in focus. He spoke of the entertainment world’s role in “training society to value and pursue extrinsic things which are passing.”
It made me think how easy it is to get wrapped up in what we are doing, accomplishing or failing to do that we can let stress creep in. We forget why we are doing what we are doing. This is something I have seen in exhausted young people who rush from one activity to the next. Sometimes the joy of the moment can escape them. I know, because I’m guilty of this.
I started struggling with the whirlwind of activities in high school when — after coming to live in Maryland from my native Peru with my parents and siblings — I found out that in addition to studies, teenagers in the U.S. are expected to be involved in extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, volunteer work, etc.
At the time, I didn’t see these activities as an opportunity to meet people or to learn more or to cultivate a healthier lifestyle. I saw the activities as obstacles. They seemed to take away time from studying and from my goal of going to college, which I wanted to do to validate my parents’ sacrifices.
But later, I found joy in many of those activities. I was grateful. These days, living in the present, which I recognize as God’s gift, is something I am better at (most days). Yet, often there is the sense that I should focus my energy toward other things: I should volunteer more, start that podcast I have talked about for ages, and have that game night with friends I have been neglecting because of work.
I still stress over my list of what I need to do and should be doing. I can only imagine how young people must feel juggling responsibilities inside and outside of the classroom.
Even when we try to be faithful to God’s love, it is easy to feel overwhelmed or discouraged, especially when we have a lot of homework, extracurricular activities and work to finish. But something Jacobs said that day has stuck with me: We are “in the world and not of it.” If we have God’s love, what are we stressed about?
We can have many conflicting thoughts and emotions. But, maybe if we identify the things that are passing, we can keep our eyes on the things that are eternal.