How to Choose Hope and Focus on What's Good

Tomorrow is Good Friday, a name that always confused me as a child.  Isn't Good Friday the day that Jesus suffered on a cross?  Isn't it the day he died?  I understood why Easter is a joyful celebration of his resurrection, but not how such a dark and sorrowful day could be called "good."

Whether or not you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ after his sacrificial death on a cross, you may still enjoy celebrating Easter as a time of renewal, hope, and love for family and friends.  But how can Good Friday fit into that?


The realities of life

I don't know many people who don't carry a burden of fear and anxiety.  Even if it's usually in the background, we all have daily stresses, looming challenges, ongoing difficulties, and potential griefs.  The world isn't perfect, and troubles and disappointments are real.  It's not a matter of if – it's a matter of when.  At some point, something will be hard to handle.

An optimistic viewpoint, contrary to what many people believe, doesn't mean you have to deny the realities of life.  It doesn't require a na├»ve, simplistic view of the world.  I think it's possible to be a realistic optimist.  You can acknowledge hardships, yet work and hope for a positive outcome.

I don't mean that all problems can potentially be solved by a miracle (although I believe that sometimes miracles do happen).  Maybe a situation can't be fixed, but you can find ways to cope and endure.

Like all of you, I've experienced trouble in my life.  If you've been reading for long, you know that I raised two daughters, but began a difficult evolution with my transgender son about a decade ago.  My father died of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) almost 18 years ago, but for several years before that he suffered the gradual loss of muscle control that accompanies that incurable condition.  My mother bore the burden of most of his care, but my siblings and I pitched in as he became unable to swallow, walk, or care for himself.  Mama died in February 2019, but because of her Lewy body dementia, the last time she recognized me was more than two years before that.  In the case of both of my parents, I mourned their loss long before they actually passed away.

A loss of control

The real problem with the death of a loved one, the difficult choices of a teenager or grown child, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or even just a stressful, problem-filled day is our realization that we don't control all outcomes.  We can't make things happen the way we want them to, our expectations are toppled, and we have to cope.

We can attempt that in various ways:

  • Negative:  We can get angry and violent.  We can abuse alcohol or drugs, overeat junk food, try retail therapy, binge on TV or video games, or find other distractions.

  • Positive:  We can talk with a friend (including God) and be open about our feelings.  We can spend time in nature, exercise, or a creative pursuit.  We can learn about our situation and make plans for our next steps.

We can also do something amazing – we can try to see the goodness and beauty in the situation.

How to be amazing

What's good about suffering?  I can think of a few things:

  • Maybe sadness lets your friends support you, and you learn just how much they care.
  • Maybe a setback gives you the opportunity to start over.
  • Maybe frustration causes you to try a new approach you wouldn't have imagined otherwise.
  • Maybe loss draws you closer to your loved ones, and stimulates good memories of the person who's gone.

Author Leo Babauta has said:

Endings are necessary for beauty; otherwise, we don't appreciate things, because they're unlimited.  Limits are beauty.  They remind us to appreciate this beautiful thing while we have it.

light through dark clouds
Maybe that's why we have seasonal changes – we get to practice appreciating the fleeting beauties of each while they last.  I look at my beloved grandchildren, aged 8½, 5, and almost 2.  They change constantly, and will never be these ages again.  That realization makes me savor each moment I have with them, even while changing my little Liam's messy diaper.  Before long, he'll be out of diapers, and no longer a big baby, but a little boy.

If you're a Christian, you know that Good Friday is the necessary prelude to Easter Sunday.  The joy of resurrection doesn't exist without the pain of death.

And if you're not a Christian (or even religious), you can remember that no pain lasts forever.  There are bad people and situations in the world, but you don't have to give in to them.  You don't have to create bad situations yourself.  And with the help of the many kind people you encounter (yes – most people delight in helping others!), you can choose to make a positive difference where you are.

May you all have a good Good Friday, and take heart from the fact that realistic optimism is possible.  Search for strength and support to endure your difficulties, and choose hope for the future.

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