In my opinion, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who chase the light at the end of the dark tunnel and those who see the hellfire pressing in at a rapid pace. And until maybe last month, I definitely identified with the second bunch.
It’s hard to tell where my cynicism dawned from, whether it was a late-blooming gene from my bitterly sarcastic parents or a result of a somewhat depressing middle school career. But no matter where it came from, it was a dominant prospect of my high school career. I wasn’t anything close to depressed because of my doomsday daydreams. Instead I believed the outcome of every situation, if I assumed it to be the worst, would either make me right or pleasantly surprised. This was the mantra that kept me strong as year after year perfectly lovely people would parade on stages at summer camps and youth groups and talk for hours about how wonderful it is to have the joy of the Lord in your heart, all day, every day. I would say to myself, “I am happy though! I’m always either right or pleasantly surprised. Don’t worry, Mr. Conscience, God’s with me on this one.”
Somewhere midway through junior year, God kind of hit me over the head with a spiritual frying pan. I was at a prayer meeting one day when I found myself totally distracted by the people around me. Most of my fellow prayer-meeting-junkies can attest that this has happened before; you open your eyes for a second to check the time or something and before you know it you’ve been staring at the friend of a friend’s acquaintance for a solid ten minutes, and you feel like a creep. This Tuesday night, I was particularly distracted by the faces that swirled all around me, glowing with such a pure, beautiful happiness. I couldn’t focus, so I went over to a leader to get some prayer. She asked what I was distracted by and her response was simple yet profound, and it has stayed with me.
“Sometimes, God specifically puts distractions in our lives to remind us of something, like to be more flexible or joyful.”
This struck a chord with me and it marked the beginning of the end of my generally apocalyptic attitude. I began to realize that constantly expecting bad things from situations and people made me resent them, and that I desired something in my heart more than to be pleasantly surprised. Who wants to be pleasantly or mildly surprised when you can have true joy? I had a quest, for something more, and those two words—joyful and flexible—stuck with me for the rest of that school year.
I wanted to be joyful and flexible, but I had not the foggiest idea how this could happen. I started making formulas and scenarios in my head that would make me truly joyful. I held onto every happy day I had with such a firm grip, trying to squeeze the happiness and peace into the rest of my life with too much passion. These feelings never lasted and I began to become all the more frustrated. I finally decided to enlist some help from some lovely holy women who informed me that I just needed to “give my life to God one day at a time.”
What the heck does that mean?
It took me a long time to boil it down, but it really comes down to two basic principles that changed my view on everything.
First, I started praying in the mornings. I know it sounds crazy; my family knows there’s nothing I like more than sleep. But a wise priest once told me that when we only pray at night, we are often doing damage control. Instead of giving ourselves to the God who saved us, our prayers are often a litany of “Oh my God, I’m so, so, sorry. Under his direction, I decided to give it a shot. I’m often barely conscious when I get on my knees to offer Him my love or read a bible passage or two, but it doesn’t matter. That simple action is something much deeper than a morning tradition.
This “something” of course is a trust in God and his plan for our lives. With pessimism, we hold in our foresight the knowledge that most everything will fail, and in many situations this is true. This is easy to transmit however into our spiritual lives, when we begin to believe that God doesn’t want our ultimate happiness. Our dreams might not come true, but the desires that power them will one day be fully satisfied, if we simply trust God. God never wants us to be miserable, and he wants us to one day be happy with him forever in heaven. If we let him do with us as he wills, then we can truly be joyful. Not just in heaven, but in our daily lives.
It’s only been a month or two of my trial run in this formula-for-joy lifestyle and I can say that its effects are clear. The days when I forget to pray in the morning or start agonizing over a particular aspect of my future *cough college cough* I find myself feeling like my younger self, fidgety and restless, like I’m missing something important. And even on days when I fail my APUSH exam or I drive a half an hour with the windshield fogged up because I don’t know how to work the defrost, I find something different about my day. Beneath all the things I do and the things that happen to me, there is always a current, no matter how small, that electrifies everything I do. I only really notice it when things are quiet around me, but when I do, I feel at peace. In the love of the Lord, I find myself home.
I still don't mind pessimism all that much in a sort of nostalgic way, and I find that a certain kind of disgust with the immoral parts of the world is a totally healthy part of the human experience. However, at least for now, I'll be giving joy a try, and I encourage any fellow pessimists at heart to give my little life tips a go during a truly joyful time of the year.