Interlude: On Hope

I’m sitting in the parking lot of the shrink’s office. This is why I got a laptop: I am so often in transit that if I waited until I was settled at my desk, I’d never get any writing done.

I think the woman two spaces away is in the same boat. She’s parked in her car, running the AC and eating something with a plastic fork. Poor thing, poor both of us. I’ll write for ten minutes more, smoke a cig, and then go get (as my father would say) my brain drained.

I avoid the waiting rooms of shrinks, strange places because everybody knows why everybody else is there. Not really, of course, since there are as many varieties of mental illness as physical. It’s like the waiting room of a proctologist: it’s not your fault if your smelly parts aren’t working right, it’s not even your fault that you have smelly parts, but everybody is kinda embarrassed anyway.

It took me so long to finally see this shrink, and there were so many roadblocks in the way, that Fr. T and I began to suspect either divine or demonic displeasure. I mainly suspected the latter, or actually neither, since I’ve been trying not to spiritualize every. Single. Thing in my life, and get used to the idea that sometimes sh★t just happens; that maybe there’s a supernatural reason for it and maybe there ain’t, but it usually doesn’t do much good to wonder.

You just try to figure out the best thing to do and then do it.1 If there’s a lesson, it’ll come anyway. We’re children and God’s the teacher, right? So nobody expects kindergartners to see the point behind phonics exercises. If you got the point already, you could’ve designed the lesson yourself.

I dunno what we’ll talk about today. I have some ideas; we could talk about my family and how it’s not my fault I’m so nuts, and maybe I will believe it this time. We could talk about why, if a particular love is hopeless and known to be hopeless, it should nevertheless persist and ache and anguish;2 and what to do when it does. We’ll see.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what William Lynch says about hope: that it is not, after all, an interior resource, not something you generate on your own; anyone who’s been in the throes of a serious depression knows this to be true, and the idea that one should be able to generate hope only drives the nails deeper.

Hope is, instead, the belief that help is available from the outside.

So I hope in my shrink, I hope in my friends, I hope in my family and all of my so-many loved ones, and the so-many who love me. I try to get the hang of hoping in God, but I have to admit that I don’t know what that means, and ask his pardon if all I can muster is hope in the people I can see and touch and hug. I know they can help me, because they have.

What God has to do with it, precisely, I don’t know; but since I don’t know, and since wondering about it makes me crazier, I conclude that he doesn’t mind if I don’t know yet.

1 Like Screwtape says: “He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”
2 “Ache and anguish” is from this particularly penetrating sentence of Faulkner’s, which often floats into my head: “life is always premature, which is why it aches and anguishes.” From somewhere in The Town.

14 Comments on “Interlude: On Hope”

  1. Kevin says:

    Maybe hoping in those you can see and touch IS hoping in God, since He is present in them and placed them in your life, and you in their’s. He works through them (don’t expect a burning bush to appear anytime soon).

  2. Sarah says:

    I agree with Kevin… sometimes God primarily ministers to us through what and who we can see, touch around us. I very much remember the several years where spiritualizing and spiritual “stuff” drove me crazy. I just needed concrete reality, concrete love, concrete goodness, yes even concrete *happiness* (I probably would have punched you if you said “God doesn’t promise happiness!” :)). I never lost faith in the spiritual, I just had to focus on seeing God in other ways b/c otherwise my over-active mind would go wild with spiritual “meanings” or interpretations that might or might not have been accurate. I also clung to scripture like, (paraphrasing here) “His ways are not our ways… ” and “Lean not on your own understanding… ” It’s really okay to not understand, to not know everything… understanding doesn’t even necessarily bring joy.

  3. Jamie says:

    Ah, yes. Behavior, not results. Or something like that. To think so hard about the “what ifs” that none of those will ever come true because you haven’t moved enough for an “if” to even maybe come about. Not that anything ever happens the way we imagine it, anyway.

    Sometimes I wonder if our attempts to spiritualize everything are some sort of (perceived) comfort thing. Sometimes it seems like it’s more fun to know better than the kindergarten teacher…or at least to think that you do. If you already know what they’re teaching, why should you even participate? But I guess it sucks later on when the teacher (God, of course) ends up knowing what was happening all along, and you have to admit that you actually had no idea and should have just stopped to listen. And all the while He’s just grinning shaking His head and loving you even though you are an idiot.

    (I’ve got about 37 thoughts floating around in my head right now, so I’ll try to stick with only a few…these things are all very connected in my mind, but I don’t know how that is actually translating. Oh well.)

    I’m reading St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castles right now, and reading this (and Sarah’s comment) I thought of two things:

    St. Teresa got me in the Third Mansion (second chapter, I think) at one point when she was talking about more or less virtuous people who get themselves into sticky situations by their own choices and then say that God is testing them or something. This is where I am currently… and sometimes knowledge is no good unless you do something with it. Behavior, not results. Because in that case, as she says, God may NOT actually be testing you, but he can still bring good out of your sucky choices. And He will, too. Sometimes it just takes a while (maybe eternity?) to see it. But that doesn’t mean you (…I…) should continue on with my bad choices & behaviors, because of course God will bring great good out of good choices, too.

    The second thing St. Teresa said (Fourth Mansion, first chapter) is something that I can’t quite wrap my mind around. Sarah said above: “It’s really okay to not understand, to not know everything… understanding doesn’t even necessarily bring joy.” St. Teresa said something about how your thoughts can be in different places than your understanding. I think I understand this (haha, oh wow…), but I’m not sure. She says that sometimes our understanding/our soul is close to Christ, but our thoughts are so distracted that we get upset and abandon the struggle, which is exactly what the devil wants us to do. So we can have hope that we may actually be closer than we think, and that He’s right there with us, even when we’re not all there with Him.

    Hm, so I don’t know if I’ve contributed much there or not. If nothing else, it’s forced me to attempt to solidify a few of my swirling thoughts. 🙂

  4. Christie says:

    Thank you for this insight into hope. Something I needed to read today, I think.

  5. Paul Delgadillo says:

    This is the first time I have ever visited here and I like what I am reading. Being a gay Catholic myself I am always dealing with what is going on inside of me. I believe that God is trying to help me to stop being so neurotic, as I am diagnosed with bipolar depression. My spiritual director could not recommend a good catholic therapist to me, so I am stuck with doing my best. I am discovering that it is not an “either/or” thing but a “both/and” one. I am going back to spending daily quiet time in front of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and that being gay is actually a plus. It is just dealing with the loneliness of being celibate. I was just eliminated from our parish food pantry because the bishop was afraid we would get sued for offering hospitality to non-Catholics; this happened when the followings Sunday’s gospel was from St. John chapter 6 on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. I know that Our Lord wants me to make my love for Him more horizontal and my spiritual director ordered me to join a gym. That daily exercise sure does help a lot of my depression and feeling of loneliness.

  6. Jon. says:

    I cant remember who said this, but to quote someone who was talking about three things he learned in his own spiritual discernment:

    “And the third thing….well that’s just it, I don’t know yet. I don’t know. Perhaps that is the third thing? Learning to be okay with not knowing? Well perhaps I’ll never know. And oddly, I’m okay with that.”

  7. Aubrey says:

    Nice post. I am trying to “stay in the day” as much as possible. It’s good to “take things one day at a time.” There is a saying that “God is in the present moment.” All of the contradictions are resolved in the present moment.
    I can spend long hours analyzing my problems, mulling over the dilemmas of my life. And I don’t get anywhere.
    Sometimes it is good to just say, I don’t know the answer right now. Let it go… Let myself be….
    I feel that, in the end, I am really seeking God and that I want the peace that comes from closeness to God. This is becoming clearer to me, and I am developing a stronger intention to become a more faithful Catholic. The Catholic religion is my vehicle to move closer to God.

  8. Miss D. says:

    Whoa, Paul D., what happened with the food pantry? I’m not sure I understood correctly.

  9. Mark from PA says:

    Hope that all this is going well and helping you. I have to share that I feel so blessed by the friends that I have met through the internet. I have met so many great people, some of whom inspire me. I have seen so much beauty in my gay friends. I mentioned to a woman on a site that talking with others has been leading me to truth. My friends have helped to increase my understanding. This woman responded to me that I continued to be heretical in my embrace and defense of homosexual “lifestyles.” The woman didn’t really get it that her comments and those of others that think like her were instrumental in affecting my opinions in a way that made me more compassionate towards gay people. Using words like heretical around me is like using the n word around a black person. Some of these women are so obvious in their dislike of and disdain for gay people. I read about your depression and wonder how much it is affected by negativity and yes messages of hate that you get from others. Some of the women that I refer to remind me of high school girls that look down their noses at people that they view as beneath them. I think for gay people self-acceptance is often a challenge given the hostility of some towards people like us. I think there is a reason that God made some people different. I don’t know why. But we are God’s children and also made in His image and likeness. Sometimes we feel conflicted about accepting ourselves as who we are but I remember being told when I was in high school that God didn’t make junk. I want to share with you that I may not have used the term gay to label myself with as a young person, even though some others may have, but I never prayed for God to make me different. I never thought that God could or would change this. I am who I am and who God made me to be and must accept this. On another note, I feel bad that you smoke. It seems odd to hear of a young person smoking as it isn’t as common among young people as when I was younger. I suppose there as still some that aren’t aware of the health risks. I hope that you don’t smoke too much. Things are tough for smokers today as so many places ban smoking. (Sorry if I sound like a nag, it must be the parent in me.)

  10. Paul Delgadillo says:

    Firstly, two years ago, after being an active member in our parish men’s group, I was eliminated by our elder deacon (our parish has 2) for openly telling parish members that I am HIV positive. The deacon checked with the diocese and found out that there was no basis in removing me, due to possibly exposing others to HIV. The HIV virus dies immediately on exposure to air. The second issue happened to me two weeks ago. I am a former Disneyland employee and I am normally very outgoing. I have received a lot of complements from those running our food pantry. However, our pastor claims that he received a letter from Catholic Charities in our diocese stating that we could no longer serve cake and coffee to those coming to our pantry as the ordinary is worried that we might get sued. “When I was hungry you fed me.” It was pointed out to our youngest deacon that it is quite all right for us to serve our Catholic brothers and sisters but not the Protestants, Jews and others who come to our food pantry weekly. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is turning over in her grave. I have also approached our pastor about the fact that our diocese has no effective ministry for those with SSA. Our last spiritual director left a year a go and there is still not replacement.

  11. Nayhee says:

    Yeah, Steve, why DO you smoke? It’s so 1985!
    (and unhealthy, obviously.)

  12. Sky says:

    Paul, I’m very sorry to hear about your situation, but I’m not sure what could be done differently. I’d guess that the reason your ordinary fears being sued is that, if someone from another denomination were to contract something from your parish’s pantry, that church would have grounds for a lawsuit against your parish. There is less danger of HIV transmission than people believe, but it *can* be transmitted through blood, so even a cut on the finger can be dangerous.

    But that really sucks, man. Maybe try not to see it as a slight against you and more a result of our lawsuit-happy culture?

    I’ll bet Steve is well aware of the dangers of smoking, but quitting is a lot of work and he’s got quite enough on his plate right now.

  13. Paul Delgadillo says:

    It was not the ordinary who was worried about being sued but Catholic Charities in this diocese. Catholic Charities is also under a lot of scrutiny in other areas of the country, because of some the those involved backing pro-choice candidates. On the HIV issue, the diocese consulted immunologists on this issue, the HIV virus is dead on contact with the air. There is more of a chance of catching herpies from a cold sore. The deacon was jealous because I was part of a men’s that was promoting Eucharistic Adoration. Funny, I was just asked to join the Knights of Columbus. The issue is hospitality, which is what the gospels during the last few Sundays have been about. The guests to our pantry understand but they are very disappointed. When I mentioned to our deacons that those visiting our pantry want a Bible study, they shirked that responsibility, which according to canon law is their first responsibility.

  14. Miss D. says:

    Paul D., thanks for explaining the situation at your parish, though it’s wrong on many levels.

    I am so sorry at how you were treated by your deacon regarding your being HIV positive, and that someone in a leadership role, and Catholic leadership role, would use your health against you in a political move.

    I love the Church and the Truth that has been passed down to us through the ages, but the human side responsible for living the Truth through ministry and action is so often gravely lacking to those who need it the most.

    Is there any other parish in your area that’s a good, orthodox one and would be welcoming to you?

    Just know that someone out here in the Internet admires you for continuing to be a witness to the Faith in spite of such trials. Pax vobiscum.

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