Have you ever looked forward to something? And in doing so, has the thought of that something completely spoiled the day you were having? I definitely had one of those days last week and I’m kicking myself for letting anticipation get the better of me.
A friend and I decided that for the rest of the summer, we are going to try to help each other out by doing some kid swaps. She has 4 kids, similarly aged to my own. So, this particular afternoon she was going to take my 4 for 2 hours. Next week, I’ll take hers. We’re offering each other a bit of respite and support and it’s such a great thing!
But, there’s always a but, the morning leading up to my afternoon of freedom was a disaster. Guess who had no patience, no tolerance, few smiles and frequent bouts of frustration? Yep, it wasn’t a pretty sight and I’ve had to apologize to everyone a few times over. I was so looking forward to time alone, that I started to want it immediately. Why should I have to wait? Why can’t these kids just [insert anything your mom has said about why you should leave her alone]. Why is there so much screaming, arguing, wanting, whining, pushing, etc?
These “why’s” where filling up my head, pushing me to behave in a manner I am not proud of. And under it all, was one more “why” that I should have been listening to along, one much more quiet but of much greater consequence.
Why are you reacting this way? What good comes from you losing your cool, expecting behavior beyond their age and demanding perfection when you yourself can’t keep it together?
Conveniently, C.S. Lewis provides some insight into this particular situation. We are currently reading aloud The Silver Chair and are enjoying the antics of Jill, Eustace (John loves to shout and giggle his full name, Eustace Clarence Scrubb!) and Puddleglum. During the course of their adventures in Narnia and beyond, the group travel across a vast and harsh plain in search of a ruined giant city. They meet a Lady and Knight, who tell them not of a ruined city, but of a thriving one called Harfang. The children, who have been sleeping on the ground and existing on little but what they could catch, are overjoyed by this news. However, their joy doesn’t last long:
Whatever the Lady had intended by telling them about Harfang, the actual effect on the children was a bad one. They could think about nothing but beds and baths and hot meals and how lovely it would be to get indoors. They never talked about Aslan, or even about the lost prince…And though you might have expected that the idea of having a good time at Harfang would have made them more cheerful, it really made them more sorry for themselves and more grumpy and snappy with each other and with Puddleglum (94-95).
There is no sin in looking forward to something. We all have hopes for what will come, be it in a few minutes or years from now. There is something captivating about hope. It draws us in and points us forward.
The problem I was facing, and that the children in The Silver Chair were facing, wasn’t an issue of hope, but of anticipation. One of the definitions of anticipation is “The act of anticipating, taking up, placing, or considering something beforehand, or before the proper time in natural order.” I was anticipating this good thing that was coming to me at the expense of the good things right in front of me.
The theological virtue of hope is what I should have been dwelling in. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has some beautiful things to say about hope. At the very end of its paragraphs on hope, there is a quote from St. Teresa of Avila that really speaks to this particular situation:
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.
Impatience makes doubtful what is certain…..preach St. Teresa! How often do I get caught up in impatience that it blinds me to what I know to be certain. Hope is what gives us the strength to wait for the Lord, to be at peace with His timing. If we know our Scripture we know what has been promised – blessing, love, mercy, goodness, and ultimately, life everlasting with our Father in heaven.
We are given opportunities each day to grow our hopeful spirit. Instead of anticipating, or focusing all our energy on what is to come, we should focus on what gifts and goodness God has given us right now. Through a proper attitude of hope, we discover true and lasting peace.