We all know at least one person who lives fatalistically. We all likely know someone else who lives a life dictated by their emotions. These folks swing from high to low within moments, cannot find their footing, and often rely on others or their circumstances to bring them happiness. Perhaps we are that person from time to time, who find ourselves saying, “This day turned out just as horribly as I thought it would!” Well, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy right there, huh?
In these difficult days, when animosity, uncertainty, negative thoughts and advertisements, anger, and hatred are on full display in our society, it is easy to become encumbered by emotion. We may see our lives and the greater world with a fatalistic view or become cold to the changing events and circumstances we experience. But, living emotion to emotion is like being on a constant roller coaster, or like a hamster on a wheel, chasing and chasing but never finding equilibrium because our immediate situation is dictating our lives. There is no steadiness or consistency. Ecstatic happiness gives way to sudden despair, joy to sadness, and we cannot catch or check ourselves before the next emotion or crisis hits.
Another way we may find ourselves living is for the “next big thing” or to believe our happiness is dependent on the next material gain or life event. “Once this vacation happens, I will be relaxed again.” “When I finally find that one person and fall in love, life will have meaning.” “If I get that promotion, all of my problems will be solved.” “That new iPhone will make life so much easier and efficient to manage!” “If I just lose this extra weight, I will feel attractive again.” We cannot find contentment in our current circumstances or even be grateful for what we have been given, because the next thing is what we “really need to be happy.”
I remember a colleague from the beginning of my nursing career. She was miserable. She projected negativity, spoke about how difficult her life was, complained that she always got assigned the most challenging patients, and viewed her career and each day with a dismal attitude. She never accepted help though she frequently commented about how behind she was in her care of patients. One day when I attempted to encourage her, she responded, “What’s the point? We’re all going to die anyway.” When I worked with her, I hoped that our assignments were not too close together, because it was so difficult to remain positive around her. One of the most challenging aspects of working with her was that she presented herself as a Christian! I saw no light coming from within her.
What do we gain when we choose to live this way? Nothing. We take on exhaustion, assigning ourselves the weight of the world and the responsibility for fixing all of the problems around us. We forget that we are not meant to live this life striving, wishing, comparing, and being sucked into a whirlwind of paralyzation. We direct our lives through fear, experience great disappointment (when even a small thing doesn’t go the way we wanted or expected), and we have no trust in the God we profess to believe in. We struggle to carry the unnecessary burden of pleasing everyone, doing everything, and having everything (or at least the latest and greatest thing). We experience discontent and resentment in our relationships because we expect perfection from them.
This world does not encourage us to hope, find joy that is more than temporary and fleeting, or believe in something higher than ourselves. And yet, we were created by a Being that existed before time began and will exist into eternity. This Being willed each of us into the life, time, and place we inhabit. He gave us the free will to choose to believe or not to believe, and equipped us with the armor, virtues, and tools to live our lives differently than our human nature drives us to live.
The word “hope” is mentioned one hundred twenty-six times in the bible. The scriptural definition of Hope is strong and confident expectation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to add that it is the “confident expectation of Divine blessing and the beatific vision of God.” (CCC 2090). My personal favorite scripture verse is Hebrews 10:23, which says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the Hope we profess, for the One who has promised is faithful.”
With what we face in our world currently, how is it remotely possible to live in confident expectation? Our burdens seem too excessive: a pandemic, financial uncertainty, division and vitriol, the normalization of hatred, job loss, involuntary home-school and working from home, a massive election, and more and more news of unrest and criticism coming from every direction. How can we turn our hearts from the immediacy and urgency of these times of crisis, to live in a consistent way?
I was diagnosed with depression twenty years ago and began to take medications. It was a trial-and-error progression. One medication brought significant side effects, such as a numbness of feeling and extreme fatigue, and another made me nauseated and dizzy but did nothing to decrease my symptoms. I went to counseling for many years, to a therapist who was a good listener but did not challenge me to dig more deeply within myself. After seven years of medication, my physician informed me that “seven years is enough, and it’s time for you to stop now.” He refused to prescribe me any further meds, and I came off of them suddenly (no one should stop their medications without tapering them, due to the physiological effects that require a slow decrease in the dose before coming off medication completely).
I lived for two years without medication, thinking this was how it was supposed to be, as the darkness crept back in. I switched providers and was placed back on the medication in addition to continuing therapy. My mind and body were in a constant state of transition, and my emotions were wrenching. After my return from living overseas, my symptoms changed again, and I started to experience severe anxiety and insomnia, so much so that I was getting no sleep. I sat inside my head all day, every day. Work was a struggle, and at this point, I was working with dying children and families. It was my lowest point, and I waited for someone to rescue me while I took on and carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. I had to do this on my own, because I believed I was undeserving of any help and certainly undeserving of God.
And yet, deep within me, at my very core, under all of the heaviness and wounding and pain, I felt a steadiness and knew in my heart of hearts that I would not give up. I fought against this belief with everything I had and tried to bury it under the lies, emotion, and inconsistency of my mind, but it kept coming back. A truth lived in me, one that knew my pain was temporary and that goodness and healing were to come.
We are weak people, living in a temporary world stained by sin. We are left wanting more. And yet, we know deep down within ourselves, whether we will admit it or not, that nothing in this world will satisfy us in the way we need it the most. C.S. Lewis writes, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
We were not made to remain in this temporary, ever-changing, fallen world. None of us will be truly fulfilled within the confines of our lives on this side of eternity. But we do not have to wait for that eternity to arrive, to live with confidence and faith. We can believe in the merciful, loving, earnest God who seeks after us and desires our goodness. We can accept that we will never be worthy of the life we have but that we are each made in His image, forgiven and loved. And we can choose to believe and live with the Hope that this is not all that there is.
We are eternal beings, trapped temporarily in these imperfect bodies. But, we find a path to steadiness, to unswerving trust in the One who holds all things in Himself and yearns for us to see more deeply than our circumstances.