At 8:25 on January first, I walked into Jazzercise and was pleasantly surprised to see which instructor was waiting on the stage. This woman is an unfailingly positive human being. The kind who is down-to-earth but never says anything negative about anyone. In other words, she’s not saccharine and fake, but genuinely sees good everywhere and in everyone.
This may not come as a shock to anyone who’s read my angsty posts, but just in case it’s unclear:
I don’t identify with this personality trait.
I admire it. I can list two other people off the top of my head who routinely blow my mind by their unfailing ability to see and comment only upon the good. But it’s not me.
I went into class that morning with two things: 1) a certainty that I already knew the word to guide my spiritual growth this year, and 2) an incredibly bad attitude about my family life. This latter reality was based upon a) the fact that I haven’t been sleeping well and b) discovering at 7:55 a.m. on New Year’s Day that my chromosomally-gifted daughter’s last act of 2019 was to put the unrinsed pasta bowls in the (wrong) cabinet instead of the dishwasher.
Over the course of the hour I spent bathing in the positivity radiating from the Jazzercise stage, I realized I was on the wrong track with my word of the year. As important as “charity” might be in my life, there’s another fundamental skill I need to develop before I can be successful in pursuing it. Specifically, the predisposition to see the good instead of the bad.
After Jazzercise, I went up to the instructor and said, “I just want you to know that I so admire your positivity.”
“Oh, you are so sweet!” she said. “How can I not be positive? There’s just so much to be positive about!“
I spread my hands, because right there was the difference between positive people and, well, me.
In the past year I’ve come to recognize and accept that, in addition to people who see the good in everything, there also need to be people to call out evil and hypocrisy. This insight came, in fact, out of the mouth of another of those inspiringly positive women I mentioned earlier.
The trouble is, a person who is on fire to see God’s kingdom made manifest on earth tends to get really angsty about ev.er.y.thing. We tend to become unable to see anything other than calamity at every swipe of the screen.
I know that one year is not going to turn me into my New Years Jazzercise instructor. Let’s be frank. The rest of my life isn’t enough time to make me into that person.
And that’s not what I’m trying for. It’s not who God made me to be. God gave me the ability to put words together for a reason, and that means pricking consciences and asking myself and everyone around me to see where our attitudes and behaviors in the real world don’t live up to the faith we claim to believe. That’s my calling.
But I will be a happier and holier person if I can angle myself two or three or five degrees in the direction of focusing on the good. I will be better able to roll with the punches when the school district calls unnecessary snow days. When the parish changes the locks, causing me all kinds of headache and extra things to remember in planning choir practices, when I already can’t keep my life straight. When the strain of juggling kids’ concerns takes more emotional energy than I have to offer it.
And I’ll be a better example of Christian living if I can turn the energy I’ve spent focused inward, on negativity, instead into recognizing, and then affirming, the good around me.
So this is the shape of my spiritual goal for 2020: to see the good.
In my parish, this window is one of three forming the back wall of the music area, where I have “lived” for the past nineteen years. Every once in a while, the setting sun illuminates the resurrection beam. It’s a glorious moment.
Holy Thursday was cloudy and chilly all day. But in the middle of Mass, the sinking sun broke through the clouds and sent this beam of light coursing down the image of Heavenly power breaking through into the humdrum, workaday world. Juxtaposed against the anxieties I have been contemplating in recent weeks (and months, and years), as well as against the Triduum whose celebration we were just opening, it felt particularly meaningful, and particularly pregnant with hope.
This is my wish for a blessed and hope-filled Easter for all those who love the Lord.