This past week, I realized that I sinned against the virtue of Hope. Basically, I had lost all hope and sinned in not trusting God.
This lack of hope lead to depression and irritability, making everything so hazy that I couldn't see anything in it's proper perspective. It seemed that everything bad was happening only to me and no one understood me, yada yada yada.
A week ago I could have told the story so much better.
Something the priest asked me during my confession: Where and when did the sadness start?
It was not something he really wanted to know (after all, there were other people waiting to go to confession too,) but something for me to think about. But I could have told him easily in one sentence:
It started with the Presidential debates. It went on from there to the complaining from those around me. Then, debates about who to vote for when there is no one good enough to vote for. Then judgment from those who disagreed with others about who they were going to vote for. And then there were the "woebegones" who just complained and woed over the hopelessness of the situation. And some even despaired.
I tried to stay out of it--in fact, I did stay out of it. I never passed around any political memes or participated on any political debate (both on Facebook and in actual life.) I didn't want any part of it; I had already seen friendships become so strained or else broken, and even good and pious people become mean and spiteful. No, I wanted no part of the political garbage this year.
And yet, it got me anyway. All this hopelessness. We don't even realize how very catching it is. We talk about the flu and all these sicknesses that are so easily passed on, but we don't talk about despair or lack of hope and how that can influence each other.
And so, since the world was apparently going to officially end on November 8th, I became more and more depressed, more hopeless. Now I'm not trying to blame my own sin on others; I could have and should have prayed more or done something to help myself. But instead, I just wallowed in self-pity and my family suffered a lot because of it.
At night, all my own personal problems and the upcoming elections weighed heavy on my mind and I even found myself wishing for a disease to come take me away from all this madness. I even had this crazy plan to take sleeping pills and just sleep November 8th away so I didn't have to hear about who won and listen again to all despair, but I couldn't figure out how to do that and still take care of the kids. But of course, there is always November 9th, so that plan wasn't going to work anyway.
Then, the other day at adoration, I decided to pick up a book called Joy in Suffering. I thought to myself, "Well, if I'm going to suffer, I might as well get some joy out of it," and went to my pew to read.
Of course, I didn't have the time to read the whole book, but I've noticed how Jesus is very good about picking out sections that He wants us to focus on. I opened the book to a random chapter and soon became very engrossed in it. I thought this book couldn't really enlighten me too much; I have read about suffering in other books and thought I knew this subject pretty well. But I was very surprised to read (with a jolt) the following sentence: "Sadness is a sin."
Sadness? This human emotion that I have been taught since preschool that is totally fine and okay is a sin?? It didn't make sense, so I read on and the more I read, the more I understood. I wish had the book in front of me to copy from but I don't, so I will just write about what I came away with (some of it is directly in the book but paraphrased in my own words.)
There is mourning and sorrow, such as our Lady's sorrow over Jesus's death and her continued sorrow over our sins; there was sorrow when Jesus cried over Lazarus's death (even though He knew in an instant that He could raise him from the dead). And there was sorrow when Jesus suffered the agony in the garden.
But sorrow is always for others; sadness is always for ourselves.
Sadness leads to self-pity, most of the time. It leads to depression. (Not to be confused with those who suffer from a chemical imbalance.) It leads to bitterness and hopelessness and if it goes on long enough, even to despair.
I realized in an instant what I had been doing and how displeasing it was to God. Suddenly, I was very aware of Jesus in front of me in the Blessed Sacrament. How was He looking at me? I wasn't sure. Full of sorrow? Sternly? I just knew that I suddenly felt very naked in front of God with my sin exposed both to Him and finally, to me. I instantly begged for forgiveness for my attitude and my lack of gratitude that had led to my sadness and self-pity.
Along with this awareness also came how important it is to be cheerful. All my life, I had wondered about the words: "God loveth the cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:6-7) Why??? What about the other people who perhaps weren't born with a bubbly nature?? What about the rest of us? Didn't God love us too?
But now I understood. Cheerfulness protects us from sadness (and self pity and so on.) Cheerfulness is a self-giving act, a constant act of love and sacrifice. That is why "God loves the cheerful giver", because they have given much. And even us less "bubbly" people are capable of being cheerful too.
I not only learned how important it is to stay away from conversations that can lead to gloominess and sadness but also that it affects our hope in God. If we are going to talk about the seriousness of the elections (and yes, it looks pretty dire), we also need to have hope in God that knows all about it and already has a plan.
One section of the book that I had managed to take a blurry picture of with my phone, told about the importance of gratitude:
God brought us out of nothing into existence, without our paying anything for the privilege of creation. He might, in fact, have made us any one of the millions of other creatures, like a rose or a lily or a lovely weed. And even then, had we been grasshoppers who could speak, we should still have told God, 'Thank You.' Yet, God made us what we are, not only without cost on our part, but even without the possibility of any contribution from us. For the best of reasons, we were not around to offer advance payment for our future existence. And so on through life..."
I must admit that there are still times I would be happy and content to be a grasshopper and be completely ignorant of how scary the world is becoming. But during those times, I tend to lose my trust in God and find myself faltering, teetering into hopelessness once again.
If you are going to talk about the election, about November 8th, about Donald Trump being an ___ and Hilary being what she is, I encourage you as a Catholic to follow it up that God is triumphant already. Remind yourself and each other that God already has this. Give up all control and let God take over. I am confident that though we may need to go down this slippery slope of darkness, that it's what going to convince the world that they do need God in their lives.
Remember that we're all in this together; we are all kind of scared. Remember there are those already quite shaken in their faith. Don't give them more reason to give up on God, to stop believing. Some of us are just barely hanging on.
My penance was to find ten things to be thankful for. It was easily counted and I could have kept going. With every count, my depression lifted and hope set in.
I am thankful for my family, for our house that we finally own (no more renting!), for my health (no disease for me, thank you!) for healthy children (a huge plus!), a good husband, my faith (I don't know where I would be without it) for a new passion to learn new things! For animals who distract us from the dreariness of this world, for good activists and leaders who fight for the good in this world to remain good, for America, for friends--though they may be few, they are true.
No powerful President can take that away from me, no impending date. Those blessings come from the hand of God Himself, and if we are faithful, they will keep on coming.
This is all in God's hands now. All that He asks of us to have hope.