A positive attitude is great. The virtue of hope is even better.
A Reflection for Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. (Ps 27:13)
I’m not a positive person by nature. Worries and problems have a way of consuming my mental energy; the thought pattern is powerful enough that the small beauties and graces of each day often can’t compete. But since a positive attitude is such an asset in our culture, this is a quality I’ve always tried to claw my way out of, trudging up the metaphorical mountain toward some much more serene and enlightened version of myself who never fails to smile and be grateful for what she has.
During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, this became much more difficult to do. In the face of my personal losses and those of friends and strangers, I was sad half the time and furious the other half. Well-intentioned encouragements to “just think positive” or “count your blessings” or “remember that everything happens for a reason” only made it worse. It felt like there was nowhere for my disappointment or anger to go, since stuffing them down in favor of a disingenuous smile was becoming impossible.
Both things are true: Our trials and tribulations are real and not to be minimized, and at the same time, God’s time will bring our suffering to an end—and will even bring blessings amidst suffering.
It was then that my prayer life started to look like a laundry list of woes. Most conversations with God were about the negative emotions I felt unable to direct elsewhere; some conversations seemed to be made up of just about one word: “Why?” Initially, I felt guilty about this. Was God going to be tired or uncomfortable in the face of my bigger feelings? Should I be sprinkling in some lighter conversation topics just for good measure? But very slowly, I began to experience an important transformation.
As bringing my low moments to God without shame became a habit, I started to see a way out of them that, to me, felt deeper than our culture’s reverence of positivity, and that was the virtue of hope. While I once might have associated hope and positivity closely, I came to understand hope as something that didn’t concern itself so much with the present moment as it did with the future.
Best of all (or at least it was good news to me), having hope doesn’t mean you have to feel your best in the present moment. In fact, you can acknowledge that things are really difficult or that you’re going through a bad time, and that doesn’t mean you can’t have hope. It doesn’t mean you can’t look forward to a better future time, a better future you who might be on the other side of today’s challenges. When darkness comes, as it does for all of us, we can name it, welcome it and go through it rather than around it. And we can still believe that good things are to come. That it won’t always be this way.
When I read today’s responsorial psalm, those early pandemic days came back to me vividly. I could almost feel the raw emotion of that time, and simultaneously, I could recognize that not only have I moved into a different period of my life; many of the things I hoped for then, that I desired and worked and prayed for, have come to pass. Both things are true: Our trials and tribulations are real and not to be minimized, and at the same time, God’s time will bring our suffering to an end—and will even bring blessings amidst suffering. “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” We can have hope when life is smooth sailing; we can have hope when we sail through choppy waters. The psalm’s operative word, after all, is “shall,” that future tense. I might be struggling to see those good things of the Lord today, or tomorrow, or even next year. But I will see them, here on earth, among the good people I love and the gifts of this life.