Before there were Quicktrips, Seven Elevens, Hucks, or White Hen Pantries, a traveler could usually find a Stuckey’s roadside stop for a snack and a tank of gas. The home of the “Pecan Log Roll,” and the “King of the Road” cheeseburger moved into our stretch of cornfields just as I was old enough to get a worker’s permit. As traveler’s dined upon my delicious snack bar food, they would casually browse through the corn cob pipes, rock candy, little cedar wood knick knacks, and various other useless chotskies.
Our thoroughly modern Stuckey’s also carried a wide assortment of bumper stickers. Give the rotating little wire-mesh tower a whirl, and like Miss America contestants strutting across a stage, the semi-clever little 1970’s slogans that adorned the chrome rear ends of America would strut their stuff. “SMILE, THEY’LL WONDER WHAT YOU’VE BEEN UP TO.” “HONK IF YOU’RE AMOROUS” (my paraphrased version), “IF YOU CAN READ THIS BUMPERS STICKER, YOU’RE TOO CLOSE.” The Seventies were bad years for clever bumper stickers.
In the “’80’s” bumper messages got more serious. During that decade, two slogans were omnipresent, “MANURE HAPPENS” (once again paraphrased), and “PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS.” Around that time, “VISUALIZE WORLD PEACE,” began to surface. In the cynical Nineties, that earnest little peace movement phrase morphed into, “VISUALIZE SWIRLED PEAS.” For my tastes, today’s bumper-sticker-adorned motorist often selects overly vitriolic political messages that seem aimed at whipping up a little more road rage.
Whether or not we ever apply a peel and stick slogan to our car’s derrière, I believe that each of us constantly carries internal bumper stickers around with us. Our educated, sophisticated conscious mind thinks in full sentences and paragraphs. Just a couple of minutes of self-reflection would reveal that our unconscious mind is wallpapered with little aphorisms (i.e. short slogans, or bumper stickers.). Whenever you dial into what’s renting space in your head, you are likely to find a bumper-sticker-sized message occupying your inner thoughts.
Cognitive psychology research has taught us that the internal messages we carry around profoundly influence our moods (and consequently, our behaviors). This research has indicated that if you want to feel better, be very conscious about what gets to rent space in your head. This begins by heightening your awareness of the unconscious messages you carry with you throughout the day. When you find a negative, or an unproductive internal bumper sticker, replace it with a realistic, mood-enhancing message.
This Sunday’s third reading contained a powerful bumper sticker. After probing Jesus’ post-resurrection wounds, Thomas made the most profound faith proclamation in all four Gospels, “My Lord and my God” (John 20: 28). One of my spiritual heroes, Sister Mary Leonard (my Seventh Grade spiritual director), offered me some early wisdom. “It’s normal to doubt. Don’t worry about that,” she said. “But when you doubt, consider making Thomas your prayer partner by whispering under your breath, ‘My Lord, and My God.'” This phrase has been especially helpful when the priest holds up the host at Mass. Another favorite of hers was the scriptural bumper sticker, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9: 24). Sr. Mary Leonard knew something about Easter living.
During the fifty days of the Easter season, we celebrate the fact that “GRACE HAPPENS.” Often it simply arrives as an unforeseen blessing out of nowhere. But the key to Easter living is to understand that there are many things that a Christian can do to create a space for grace to “happen” more frequently. One of those things has to do with attending to the internal bumper sticker-like messages you are walking around with all day.
Look for patterns. When you become aware of a persistent negative internal bumper sticker, consider having a pre-prepared slogan available that provides a response to it. Some clients of mine benefit from this little mantra, “Lord, I surrender that to you.” Some wise Twelve Steppers will tell you of their own little mental decals like, “Easy Does It,” or “Let Go and Let God.” A short phrase breathed in with a cleansing breath (e.g. “My Shepherd is the Lord,” or “My Light,” or, “Jesus.”) can have the effect of rebooting the emotional and spiritual computer. If a past hurt or a current problem is persistent, you may find that returning to your little self-selected bumper sticker response again, and again transforms a pesky thought or image into an ongoing prayer.
Be careful with this Easter technology. Engaging in this form of sacred cognitive therapy, could lead to full-throttle Easter behaviors like increased smiling. And if you start smiling more often, it may lead to “PEOPLE WONDERING WHAT YOU’VE BEEN UP TO.”