February 22, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

We can’t take much credit for a satisfactory life

Cynthia DewesSometimes I wonder how a person can evaluate how his or her life is turning out because there are so many variables that contribute to it. For example, there is the genetic factor.

We may be born with a congenital handicap or a tendency to have a serious illness or health condition. It may be in the cards for us to develop diabetes or colon cancer, thanks to genes from earlier generations carrying those things. Or we might be prone to clinical depression, high blood pressure or macular degeneration. And, of course, we’d also love to blame genetics for weight gain.

On the other hand, we may be luckier. We may inherit strong bones, good teeth or lots of energy. Maybe we can take aspirin or eat anything we like without wreaking havoc on our bodies. Maybe we’re very intelligent or articulate or artistically gifted. Maybe we have common sense or are “good with our hands,” knowing how to plan, make or fix things.

Of course, some of these qualities are gained from the way we are raised, as well as what our genes may predict. And that’s another facet of life over which we have little control—the nurture, or lack of it, that we experience growing up. Do the parents who teach us by word and example demonstrate what it is to be a man or a woman, to be happy in a relationship or to be good parents ourselves? Do they give us proper nutrition and a feeling of security?

Then, there is opportunity. We need to find, or be given, chances to learn and develop. And this is one area which we can control. Besides requiring encouragement to discern what we want from life and what it takes to get it, we need the will to do it. This means getting an education or training, working to support ourselves, and expanding our ideas of possibility.

Then, in addition to all these factors that contribute to living a life, we need hope, indeed faith that we can achieve satisfaction. Unlike what much of our culture teaches, real fulfillment can only come from faith in ourselves, faith in the goodness of others, and faith in the love of a benevolent God who is in charge of the world.

Hope may be hard to come by when the actual world in which we exist seems anything but benevolent. We may be living in poverty, ignorance, abusive domination, or ill health and malnutrition. We may see no way to get out of it, no possibility of a happy future. This is where faith must kick in.

In faith, we believe in ourselves, believe that we can and will gain health, financial stability or whatever we are aiming for. We will prepare ourselves with whatever tools it will take to get there.

In faith, we’ll believe in the goodness of others. We’ll ask for shelter, advice, comfort or anything that might enable us. We’ll expect others to be good to us, as we, in turn, will be good to them. Sometimes we’ll be disappointed, but we’ll keep trying.

Most of all, in faith we will know we live in a world controlled by a God who loves us. We can be confident that when we ask, our prayers will be answered. Maybe not exactly the way we expect, but always with the right answers.

Having faith is not a cop-out or an easy formula for making life satisfying. Rather, it’s the essential element in it.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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