There are a lot of good reasons to be angry today. When we look around and continue to see injustice in our government, our church, our cities, and in our homes, it is more than acceptable to get angry and to turn that anger into constructive change. To go through the world with a critical eye, a strong sense of purpose, and the perseverance to make a change is much needed.
As I get more involved with the church and the issues relevant to it, I find myself fueled by anger more and more. How can I not when I see the things I see, done to people for which I feel so passionately about? How can I stand content with so much wrong with the world around me? I can’t, I tell myself.
But this way of thinking in exhaustive and unsustainable. Even for those most concerned with the injustices of the world, anger is a short-lived motivator that cannot sustain. Motivated by anger alone, we end up bitter and unfulfilled because there will always be something new to get angry about. It is a road that might accomplish many good things, but alone it can only lead to bitterness and despair. (And yes, I really mean despair. When you look at the outlook of things like climate change, growing poverty statistics, government efficiency, and energy consumption, it is difficult not to throw up your hands, say, “We can’t possibly make any difference!” and give up.)
When I find myself going down this road, what always brings me back is a reminder to have an attitude of gratitude. Sure, it sounds a little cliche, but it’s much more than just a self-help/mind-over-matter gimmick: it’s a theology.
To go through the world with an attitude of gratitude, even in it’s most frustrating times, is to recognize the goodness of the God-incarnate in the world. How often do we call to mind the endless gifts we’ve been freely given without merit or entitlement? When I do, it reminds me that I’m not in control, that there is something outside of myself capable of so much more than I am. It reminds me why there are things worth getting angry over in the first place, but grounds me to know that I can’t solve the world on my own. At its best, it reminds me of how wonderful all of creation is, gives me a greater perspective on eternity, and abates my anger completely because I know that everything will work out in God’s eternity.
This absolutely does not mean I wish to slip into a state of apathy because “God will take care of it,” nor does it mean that we should work any less for the sake of justice. Such attitudes are at best a self-therapeutic conception of God, focused entirely on the self. No, what I mean to say is that Love is more powerful than Hate; optimism more inviting than pessimism; praise more constructive than criticism; and gratitude more life-giving than complaint. Even when faced with life’s most challenging issues, in times when we have nothing but anger and frustration, we still have a loving and merciful God that has blessed us with abundance at every turn. Why should we believe that the future will hold anything less than the same outpouring of gifts we have already encountered, or that tomorrow’s problems will somehow be beyond the reach of God’s intercession?
As a guide, who could be better than Francis of Assisi? Surely there is no one in history that praised God more often or more completely than the little poor man from Italy, even in the harshest conditions. I believe that joy and gratitude are as central to our charism as poverty and fraternity, and it’s the model I’m trying to adopt today.