Do you think your life is a love story? A friend asked me last December. Christmas mass, as I stood in front of the Nativity, I was confronted with the hopelessness of my response: “Not really.” For too long I felt burdened and embittered by instances in which I felt I loved others better than they loved me. For too long I’d been counting the things I wished and prayed for but had not received. Sadness and boredom pervaded me constantly. But standing in front of the Nativity, it was in His will for me to ask: “Could you show me my life is a love story?”
And so He taught me:
1. You must learn to thank Me.
A priest once told me: “The Devil deals in generalizations” such as: “No one bothers to care for me.” Even during my sadness, I can list at least ten people who regularly sought me out, loving me selflessly. I can list one thousand gestures of kindness I received to compensate for all my rejections, but my mind distorted the balance. I had long hated the word “gratitude”. Then I read that black holes and stars wield the same amount of energy... One sucks everything into itself, a force field of control; the other emits light (Sasha Knock, TheYoungCatholicWoman). It clicked for me: My attempt to control my life and failing (expectations v. reality) was saddening me. Gratitude is nothing more than renouncing control over the good and the bad alike.
2. You must learn to be “at home” with yourself.
Loneliness gets a bad rap. We actually need it to get to heaven. No matter how perfected human love can become this side of Paradise, as long as you are your own person, you will have solitude: The cell of your soul only God can enter. When a friend heard me complaining about the rejection I felt with others, she asked me: “Why are you not at home with yourself?” and I am left to ponder the promise of Jesus: “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him."
3. You must revisit charity.
Charity: “To love God as He loves Himself.” I have long resisted imagining Jesus as an infant. Jesus had always been, to me, a man: Understanding, strong, and competent (little did I understand, the Infant of Prague holds the world in one hand and blesses me in the other). A little child appeared to St. Teresa of Avila at night once, inquiring “who are you?” to which she answered, “I am Teresa of Jesus. And you?”. The little child: “I am Jesus of Teresa.” To live a lover’s life, while God loves me, I must also be a lover: “Abigail (here you insert your name, reader) of Jesus”. I must tell Jesus: Let me hold You. Let me care for You. I refuse to control You, as one would not clench the arm of a baby. St. Francis of Assisi, another lover of the Infant Jesus, had prayed: “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive…”. These words are liberation. Let Jesus concern Himself with your neediness. He will come through. You concern yourself with His (i.e., the neediness of others).
4. You must revisit hope.
Hope: “To trust God to give you what he has promised” and then “rely on it”. True hope is never separated from the person of Christ, therefore it is also never separated from the kingdom of Heaven (CCC 1817, 1818, 1821). God does not promise you anything except Himself, so don’t hope for anything else. Because nothing else is real. And neither does He tease us, and neither does He hold back. As a friend prophesied to me:
“The Lord spoke to me today that He is going to fulfill my desires. I believe His promise that He will fulfill all my specific desires (although maybe not in the way that I want or foresee), but I think He also meant that He Himself, the person of Christ, fulfills all my desires in Himself, and He can do that presently, not just in the future.”
5. You need humility.
Sadness, for me, often accompanies habits like these: Talking excessively about myself, hating the happiness of others, self-pity in times I am excluded, forgotten, or rejected the praise and attention I desire. It is funny because all these sources of sorrow are directly addressed in the Litany of Humility: “From the desire of being loved, deliver me Jesus”; “that others may be chosen and I set aside”; “that others may be praised and I unnoticed”.
6. You need more pleasure in your life.
We are Christians, not stoics. Pleasure is good! Thomas Aquinas, addressing sadness, lists pleasure as a cure. And while sex, food, and drink are all pleasurable and good, to be chaste and temperate is to be called to even higher pleasures. Aquinas holds that the pleasure that will make us the most happy is contemplating Him, here on earth and ultimately in the Beatific Vision. Jesu, voluptas cordium: Jesus, burning, overflowing delight of our hearts! We find this pleasure also in seeking truth. This means I have had to re-examine all that I am reading and listening to.
7. Be not afraid to seek counsel.
My one disclaimer is this: I don’t think my “season of sadness” has been anything near chronic depression. Depression can be a deeply situational and chemical thing I have no grounds to speak on. All I can personally attest to is relief from depressive thoughts after the six points I just mentioned. If these points are not enough or your sadness seriously interrupts daily life, I really encourage seeking help. He sees how long you’ve been down (John 5:6). But by His grace, He desires that you “rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Abigail Herrick is a sophomore studying English and education at K-state. She delights in Jesus Christ in literature, art, and conversation and her love language is dance parties and coffee at unseemly hours of the night.