Reaction to life’s hardships determined by how we understand God

Published: May 6, 2006

By Judy Hoelzeman

Easter Sunday is over, but the paschal mystery remains. Every day of our lives involves dying and rising in Christ. When we experience an oversupply of dying — that’s when it gets tough. Almost five years ago, I made a very long list of all the painful, frightening and sad things that were happening in the world and in my family. Terrorists had attacked our country, my mother was admitted to a nursing home, my savings lost 30 percent of its value. On and on my list went. I felt numb with disappointment, let down by people I trusted, alone and very vulnerable in a hostile world. This article is for those of you who feel as if you’ve had a little too much “dying” lately. What’s happening? What are you going to hold on to if it continues? The ever-ready answer, of course, is that you will hold on to your “faith,” that powerful five-letter word. Ah, to have the kind of faith that William Cantwell Smith writes about. He calls it serenity, a quiet confidence and joy in which we can find a profound and stable meaning in the world and in our lives, no matter what happens to us. Father John Powell, in “Fully Human, Fully Alive,” writes that faith is greatly influenced by the frame of reference we use to look at life. He calls it our “life vision.” What are your first reactions, those you always seem to have handy? Fear? Anger? Mistrust? Those form a life vision. Or, maybe your first reactions are to help out, to find humor or to trust that good will prevail. Those reactions form a very different life vision. Let’s think about what kind of life vision Jesus must have had to trust so totally in God’s will. Father Powell suggests that Jesus’ vision was based on six points. First, that God is love and all God does is love. Second, that we are loved by God unconditionally and as we are, without changing or being good enough. Third, (and this one is hard) that God’s providence rules the world. Human destiny ultimately is in God’s hands. Fourth, that we are called to love; the better we accept God’s affirmation (see second point), the more strength we have to love. Fifth, that God will be with us and always wants what is best for us. And last, that our human destiny is eternal life. It is clear that Jesus’ life vision brought him quiet confidence and joy, but forming a vision like his may seem impossible for us. To succeed, we probably need to overcome some common faulty thinking. In bad times, we may feel that God is punishing us. But that does not fit Jesus’ vision of God. Or, we rely on our limited vision, thinking the only possible outcomes of a situation are those we can imagine. But God is never limited to human logic. Wanting guarantees is another stumbling block to faith. When we truly turn a situation over to God, we can’t be sure we’ll get our way. We can be sure, though, that we will grow in confident trust and in the ability to cope. And the ultimate time waster and stumbling block: Asking why. Many things simply will never make sense. A better question to ask is “How am I going to respond?” — coming out of my life vision, my basic perception that “all God does is love.” Judy Hoelzeman is a member of St. Edward Parish in Little Rock.