I think Thoreau was right when he said that “The masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Mostly true. Too many men and women feel desperate today. Or more accurately, they feel despair.
- Despair that they will ever get ahead of their bills.
- Despair they will ever find a spouse.
- Despair that their marriage will ever improve.
- Despair that they will ever lose that stubborn weight.
- Despair that their children will ever return to the faith.
Quiet desperation. Deadly despair.
But are their fears true? They may be feeling despair, but does that indicate that things can never improve? Does it mean there’s no hope?
That’s the tricky thing about feelings. They can be very powerful and if we’re not careful, we can let them define our reality. We see that happening in a big way in the world today. Feelings, and opinions based upon those feelings, are dominating while reason, common sense, and objective truth seem to have gone out the window. It’s a frightening scenario.
Solving a societal problem always begins on the individual level. After all, it isn’t land masses or borders that make nations, but the people within them…those masses of men (and women) to whom Thoreau referred.
So, what is despair?
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, despair is an emotion of what he termed “the utility appetite.” The emotions of the utility appetite move us to take action in response to other emotions called “humane emotions.” Humane emotions (like love) move us interiorly in our hearts but the utility emotions move us to action…or not. Courage moves us to act in spite of fear. Despair, on the other hand, can actually stop us. Of course, at times, despair has its place. When we expend great effort to no avail we need to evaluate the situation to see if continued effort is merited. If the key is broken in the lock and we’ve tried for hours to unstick it, yielding to despair and calling a locksmith may be the prudent thing to do rather than wasting more precious time.
Defining the Emotions
In all circumstances, it is helpful for us to define the emotions we are feeling and to see how they square with reality and then use reason and common sense to decide what we should do. Even though we may feel despair at times, we need to remember it is simply an emotion – a feeling. And feelings can change and be fickle at times. Hope is a feeling too, but unlike despair, hope is more than simply an emotion. Hope is also one of the theological virtues. As such it is something we can pray for and that can actually be infused into us by the Holy Spirit.
When our hope is in God and His goodness then no situation is truly desperate for us. Sometimes it’s a matter of changing our prayer or the way we are praying. Sometimes we’re so attached to what we want, because we believe it will make us happy, that we can’t imagine anything else making us happy or that we can be happy without that for which we are praying. That can get us into trouble – big trouble.
We have to realize that our perspective is rather limited at times. God’s perspective is not. He can see down the road how things will ultimately work out for us, for good or for bad. If we take as our premise the theological truth that God loves us and always wills our good, it can help us to reframe our situation and to surrender to Him in trust. If what we are praying for doesn’t work out the way we had hoped, we need to believe that He has a better plan. He truly does!
Think of the person you love the most, perhaps your child. You want good things for them and you want to spare them heartache by saying no at times. It’s not to hurt them but to help or protect them. When they trust you, it makes it so much easier to give them good things. When they don’t, the push and pull power struggle can delay, or delete the good things you’re trying to give them. It’s the same way with God.
So, when you pray each day, remember to ask for the virtue of hope. Meditate on God’s love for you and build a relationship of trust in Him. Live a life of quiet inspiration.
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