This year is testing the endurance of nearly everyone in the US and around much of the world. It’s still too early to tell how the co-occurring crises stemming from the COVID pandemic, the protests about racial and economic inequality, and recent efforts to dominate the world by China and Russia through currency manipulation, digital stealth and sophisticated weaponry, will pan out.
However, it’s never too soon to implement basic principles to guide us through tumultuous times. Fundamental principles that fortify our navigation through uncharted territory if we integrate them into our daily lives include: Finding hope, relying on faith, and practicing charity.
Finding hope is a good place to start, even though hope is difficult to explain. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines hope as to believe or trust.
Hope was demonstrated by a 69-year-old farmer with whom I communicate periodically. He considered suicide after losing most of the family farm several years ago. He explained, “I had given up trying, when I remembered what I had learned in religion classes: God will never forget you and will hold you in His hands.”
“I would be selfish if I committed suicide,” he said. My wife helped me figure that out. What was happening to me was miniscule compared to what some people go through and what I will find out after I pass.”
We often learn hope best when we are “bottoming out.” When we realize there is nothing to depend on except beliefs in a higher purpose, we rely on faith. We learn charity through caring for others.
A wanderlust friend I referred to in a 2012 column, and who was living in Thailand when we last connected face-to-face, explained more. He had spent several months working with Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun who devoted her life to caring for the most destitute in Calcutta, India.
Tom said he wanted to learn compassion from Mother Teresa during his sojourn at the hospital operated by the Missionary Sisters of Charity. Periodically he repeated his request to Mother Teresa; she did not answer him.
Tom’s patience was running out, and he was planning to move on with his life when Mother Teresa asked him to meet her at 4 a.m. the next morning by the hearse the sisters used to haul the sick and dying to the hospital. She asked Tom to drive the vehicle.
As they traversed the streets of Calcutta before the city woke up, Mother Teresa directed Tom to pull next to a sickly man on the curb who was too weak to speak but who opened his eyes when Mother Teresa approached him. She gathered the gravely ill man in her arms and told him, “My brother, you are saved.” Together, she and Tom maneuvered the dying man onto a gurney and lifted him into the hearse.
After delivering the sick man to the hospital, the two set out to find other indigents in great need of care. They spotted an emaciated man lying on a sidewalk in his vomit and covered with flies.
Mother Teresa directed Tom to pick up the man. When he approached the deathly ill man, Tom was so repulsed by the man’s odor and filth that he convulsed with urges to puke; he began to cry.
After a few minutes Tom regained his composure. He cradled the sick man in his arms and easily lifted him into the hearse by himself, gently voicing, “Be comforted my brother.” When Tom thanked Mother Teresa for teaching him, she said, “Thank the man you just cared for.”
Our own insights into what is most important in life might not be as powerful as Tom’s experience. However, learning is most likely to occur when we struggle.
We acquire hope when we surrender self-importance and honestly say, “What do You, God, want from me?” Personal peace signals if hope follows.
We find faith when we implement “Not my will but Thine” to a higher purpose than ourselves. We behave charitably by helping others, especially when we assist those in greatest need.
Several practical suggestions for learning more about these fundamental principles include the following:
• Look out for others as well as ourselves by sharing our goods, skills, and checking on their welfare
• Open up ourselves to alternative thinking, especially by asking for thoughts from persons with whom we disagree, and sort out what we feel is right
• Recognize that we can learn the most from challenges we don’t want to face
• Ask how to turn unwanted circumstances into opportunities to change ourselves into better persons
• Laugh at ourselves because it’s fun for us and for others; humor calms us and can change our outlooks and the outlooks of others; it stimulates creative thinking
It’s okay to make mistakes, if we acknowledge and apologize for them, and even better if we don’t repeat them.
All of us are works in progress who need hope, faith, and charity.
Dr. Mike is a psychologist at Harlan, Iowa. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.