In recent weeks, God is trying to change some old habits in me that get in the way of loving as He loves. It’s exciting to feel the Lord’s presence and attention when He’s nudging you to some deeper insight or change.
It’s exhilarating…for awhile.
What happens with me usually looks something like this: God is calling me to make some changes—primarily interior changes, but they affect my external behavior, as well. I am grateful for His insights and inspired to try. I begin doing things differently. It feels good to do things differently, even if no one notices.
No one notices.
I’m tempted to tell someone, just to gain a little reinforcement that I’m on the right track. On a good day, I say a little prayer and resist this temptation, knowing that this is just my insecurity looking for an attaboy. On a less good day, I tell someone and get my temporary fix of positive feedback to keep me going for a few more hours at least.
I try. I stumble a bit, regain my footing and try again. I journal a bit. I pray a bit more. I feel different—a good different. Then something happens that pushes my buttons.
Usually it’s some little thing—in fact, the smaller and more ordinary, the more quickly my frustrations reach a boil: Here we go again. I’m trying to be a better person. Trying to hold my tongue and do the right thing, but nothing changes. Don’t they see how hard I’m working?
I should say something. I really shouldn’t. But seriously, maybe I should. Maybe if I let people know what I’m trying to do, they can be more helpful instead of doing…THAT. That exact thing.
That’s it; I’m saying something.
And I blow. As I’ve said previously, my mouth is usually several seconds ahead of my heart, so all my frustration comes flooding out. But frustration with whom? Often it feels like someone else—usually my wife or children. But I’m coming to realize, it’s usually rooted in me.
* * * * *
I am told that each of us has a primary virtue struggle: one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, love) that we particularly need and struggle with. For me, it’s hope.
I’m not a hopeless person in the sense that I see no future, have no dreams, and the like. We use the word hope to mean a great many things—from mere preference (I hope it’s a short winter and a sunny spring) to an aspiration or dream (I hope to write a publish a novel one day). But the virtue of hope is a particular thing. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines (CCC) it this way:
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. … The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity (CCC 1817-1818, emphasis mine).
The virtue of hope is not mere optimism that things will work out; it’s the firm confidence that God is good and will deliver as promised—if we entrust ourselves to Him. It is the peace of knowing with full certainty that, no matter how it appears at the moment, God has everything well in hand and will bring about our good—if we entrust ourselves to Him.
Do we trust Him?
* * * * *
Reflecting on my typical emotional spiral, described above: “Here we go again. I’m trying to be a better person. Trying to hold my tongue and do the right thing, but nothing changes. Don’t they see how hard I’m working?”
Where is God in that line of thinking? Absent. Upon whose so-called strength am I relying? My own.
“But nothing changes…”
Is it any wonder? Here we go again, indeed.
Theological virtues are gifts from God, so I must pray and ask Him for more. Virtues must also be practiced, so I must choose to turn to Him and trust Him—and not only in moments of discouragement or frustration, but in all moments. May the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila be my own:
“Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end” (CCC 1821).
Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.