The first remedy is to take the ideas which cause sadness in us and make them concrete, analyze them, correct, and control them. These may be ideas of (1) failure or mistake, (2) inability or sickness, (3) death of a loved one, (4) sorrow or trouble in general.
1. Failure in a career or business enterprise, or even being called upon to speak in public when unprepared, produces sadness when we think, “I have wasted my time, looked like a fool, or lost my head.” In such instances happiness depends upon whether we are able to oppose this thought with a balancing truth such as, “I lost a dollar, but gained a million.” This will always be a consoling truth if we act with a good intention. Whenever we are friends of God through grace and act with good will, our Heavenly Father writes for us a heavenly check for eternal glory and satisfaction. We have then gained a million, though we may have lost certain creatures, things of little value, insignificant grains of sand compared with the Infinite. Can such a situation be a sad one?
A mistake can be purely subjective when, for instance, we expect more than what is reasonable. But there is a means of ensuring joy. When we do favors for others, we should not look for human gratitude. For a human return is very often lacking, especially as regards work done for the common good. Let us act, instead, in order to please God who receives as done for Him what we do for our neighbor and who promises to pay us back with an “eternal kingdom.”
2. Inability and sickness sadden us with the idea that we are burdensome to others, do not produce anything, and merely suffer. The aged and infirm feel more strongly about this to the extent that their youth was active. If only they could understand that, for eternal results, patience and prayer are more effective than all our merely human initiative and activity.
I explained this to some old people in a nursing home and asked them to be missionaries through patience. Afterward the nursing sisters could not get over their astonishment at seeing the vitality which this thought brought them. The same thing happened with a twelve-year-old boy who had been in the hospital for three months. I asked him if he would like to be a missionary and save souls.
“But, Father, I can’t even sit up in bed. I can hardly move.”
“Exactly. If you offer your sufferings for souls, you can save them better than I. You see, Jesus Christ preached and performed many miracles, but only a few people were converted. When He suffered and died, though, He redeemed the whole world.”
Hearing this, the youngster began to cry.
“Why are you crying?”
“Because I have lost a year of suffering. Why didn’t someone tell me this a year ago?”
From then on, he cried no more. Instead, the more he suffered, the happier he became. For he was helping to save more souls.
3. Death itself cannot take joy away from a Christian family. If the death of a loved one makes us sad, this is usually because we look at him and imagine, like the pagans, that at death he has lost everything. Or because we look at ourselves and think that “we have lost him.” This phrase is so often used erroneously. But if we activate our faith and convince ourselves of the happiness of those who die in the Lord, and the help which, with Him, they can bring us, then we can feel consolation and joy.
4. A present difficulty or “trouble” will not make us sad if, instead of looking at its unpleasant side, we see it in the light of faith. Suffering should be an imitation of God who took suffering upon Himself in this life. Our pain is a completion of what is lacking, as St. Paul says, in the sufferings of Christ. It makes the application of the merits of His Passion more effective. More souls can be saved as a result of our sufferings if they are united with those of Christ.
Trouble is a check drawn upon the bank of heaven. If we understood God’s own language, we would read in it this idea: “Infinite Justice and Goodness promise to pay back in heaven a superhuman and endless glory and satisfaction to the Christian who, while in the state of grace, willingly accepts a light and passing suffering.” The divine signature is put on this check only when we accept the suffering. Day by day to pile up such checks for eternity is a source of happiness; and it is a great good fortune to suffer only lightly and for an instant as the price of gaining infinite joy forever.
We must know how to value suffering and how to handle the thorns of life. If we tread on them, they torment us; in our conscience they kill us; in our heart they stir up life. Under our feet they prevent our walking; in our conscience they block true life; in our heart they let us fly. This power they have from the Heart of Christ.
The second remedy is to foment thoughts of joy. We should always have optimistic thoughts, happy memories, and a clear acknowledgment of God’s benefits in that treasure house of creation, human nature. We should also increase our knowledge and cheerfully think about the inexhaustible treasures offered us in the world of color, form, and sound. Artists usually catch a vision of all this and know how to appreciate it.
Our eyes are marvelously perfect cameras. Automatically they focus upon, capture, and project into our brain living scenes in full color and three dimensions. Our sense of hearing is like a marvelous internal musical instrument which faithfully reproduces thousands of different notes and melodies. Our hands, arms, and legs are like cranes which can execute an infinite variety of complicated movements. In brief, our whole organism is a marvelous treasure created for us by God. This is especially true of our memory, a library which classifies, in order, thousands of useful experiences; our understanding which continually discovers more and more of reality and will be able to understand Infinite Reality; and our will by which we are capable of union with Uncreated Goodness.
Recognize, too, the many goods we have in the family, State, and Church, and all the supernatural means we have of getting to Heaven. This is a happy thought because of the certitude we have from faith and reason that God exists and is Our Father, that He is with us, watches over us, and governs all our circumstances for our benefit. This is, moreover, a calming and peaceful thought, for hope in the divine promises gives us a foretaste of Heaven. There is, in addition, a thrill of joy and satisfaction in the thought that we are the objects of God’s love and can ourselves sincerely love Him.
Editor’s note: The above excerpt was taken from Peace Be With You: Keys for Coping with Anxiety, Sadness, Anger, and Doubt, available now at Sophia Institute Press.