From a young age, I have always made it a priority in my life to pursue that which is good, true, and beautiful. Discerning and then preceding to chase these things, which I have always found within the rich theology of the Catholic Church, characterized the way I lived my life. My choices, tastes, and beliefs sprung from my quest for these ideals.
Chasing truth, goodness, beauty, has led me on a fairly countercultural path.
There came a point this past semester however when I gave up. I’ve taken blows before in my optimism, but 2016 cracked down on me with more force than I’ve ever handled before, and I found myself thinking, “What’s the point?”
Doubt gnawed constantly on my mind, and I felt helplessly inundated by a feeling of inadequacy in terms of my efforts. Why am I fighting so hard for the truths I believe in when it seems to only make my life harder? Why am I struggling to protect and preserve things that no one else seems to value? Why are the values I treasure most making my life so difficult?
I simmered in a cocktail of varying emotions, feeling at times antiquated, ridiculous, rattled, angry, and alone. I was frustrated at God, like some little child, for allowing this
confusion to enter my life. You know the cone of silence from the movie Get Smart?
It felt vaguely like God had placed me in that cone of silence; for the first time in my life I felt very far away from Him, drifting in some void. I wanted to write about it, but I had two different voices clamoring for dominance in my head. I wanted to talk about it, but how do you discuss the fact that you’re questioning everything you’ve based your life upon? Most of all I wanted to silence it, to get rid of the constant argument and struggle broiling in my head, because it was exhausting, and alienating.
My reason objected strongly that simply because something is not popular does not discredit its validity. My emotion answered back that who really cares, adhering to my values wasn’t fun anymore. It had gotten hard. I tried to find solace in books, seeking to find answers that either affirmed or satisfactorily discredited the ideals I’ve come to live by, but no matter how much extra logic or reasoning I poured into my brain, emotionally I was still at odds with what I believed.
Flash forward to a little over a week ago, in the wake of the Orlando shooting. I ran that evening on my own, starting out listening to music but turning it off within 5 minutes because of the chaotic noise of my thoughts. My mind was as loud and divided as it had ever been, again swamped by a feeling of fruitlessness and pointlessness and overwhelming sadness. Why try? Why make any effort when there was so much wrong in the world? All the bad, evil things that have occurred in the world were flashing through my mind like a demented movie, and I felt utterly small and meaningless in a world where there is so much pain.
And very suddenly, like an IM send by God that popped up into my mind, I was struck by two things.
The first was my favorite scene in Lord of the Rings; it occurs in The Two Towers, when Frodo has just narrowly escaped capture by a Nazgûl, (saved by Sam, the real mvp amIright) ——->
, and Frodo turns to Sam and says, utterly exhausted, “I can’t do this, Sam.”
Frodo’s feelings during that situation pretty much sum up my past semester; tired, out of motivation, telling God repeatedly “I can’t do this anymore”.
But Sam’s reply is everything:
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”
What Sam has here, is hope. The thing with feathers. The virtue which I only have come to appreciate through the dark murkiness of this past semester. The thing I lost for a bit, but have by the grace of God regained.
Hope, in a Christian sense, can be defined as confidence in God. Shaken by difficulty, I lost a great deal of confidence in Him this past semester. I could see only the present darkness, and was blind to the fact that, as Sam says, “it’s only a passing thing, this shadow”. The sun always rises again.
There is good in this world. I believe this with every fiber of my being. And this goodness encapsulates things including truth and beauty, and above all love, the real love of sacrificing your own desires for the good of another.
The second thing I was simultaneously struck by was the verse, “Take up your cross and follow me”. God’s response to my toddler-like tantrum towards Him was a gentle reminder that following Christ never promised to be easy. Emotionally, I had not accepted any such cross, and in fact was quite resentful when I was given one.
But God does not ever promise a life devoid of suffering, or even of conflict; if Jesus’s life is an example for our own, one can certainly see there can be plenty of both. But He does promise that’s it’s only a passing shadow, for “the light shines amid the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
So where does this leave me? Well, for the first time in months I am no longer a house divided against myself, and as such I feel so much stronger. Maybe I’m small, and constantly struggling, and yeah there’s a lot of shadow in our world. But this shadow is no longer my deterrent, but my motivation, and my struggle is merely a sign that I’m actively fighting and working to move closer to God.
Samwise Gamgee (again coming through as the real mvp):
I’m ready to start fighting for it again.