The sun shone brightly in the late April sky. It was a surprisingly hot day for spring in New England. As we walked around the garden center bright pops of yellow, purple, and pink reminded us that summer would soon arrive. This was our first trip of the season – we’ve been coming here for the past six years and each year it still feels difficult. As we approached the checkout, the friendly gal behind the counter kindly commented on the various arrays of yellow flowers which we had assembled. “My mom loved yellow flowers.” I said. “We like to make sure that her grave is adorned in yellow flowers every spring and summer.” Once I had opened up about the personal nature of our shopping trip, I soon learned that sunflowers were her mom’s favorite flower. She spoke with tears in her eyes, offering, “Now, I always keep sunflowers in my home to remember my mom, her love of beauty and all good things in life.” We chatted for another few minutes and parted ways with the acknowledgement that we were both blessed for having been given the gift of our beautiful mothers.
The encounter at the garden center stuck in the back of my mind for many days. Initially I could not put my finger on it but then realized what *thing* had actually made a lasting impression on me. Despite her grief, the gal at the checkout did not let it affect her pleasant personality or her work ethic. In fact, had I not shared the reason behind our flower purchase, I may never have learned about her own deep feelings of sadness – the obvious pain that lay just under the surface of her otherwise sunny personality. Life can be hard sometimes, but the garden center gal clearly believed that feeling sorry for herself was not the optimal way to live life. Like her, I’ve learned that the only thing which works well when one is suffering for any reason is to choose a hopeful attitude.
I recently read a book about an interesting person who chose such an attitude when life dealt him numerous disappointments. Charles de Foucauld was a nineteenth century French priest, and recently canonized saint in the Catholic Church. He is best known for his “ministry of presence” to many unknown people and cultures in the deserts of Algeria. But Charles was not always a humble and charitable person. In fact, his early years were spent as a selfish and worldly young man. But this lifestyle left him feeling empty inside and he eventually returned to his faith. Although Charles never realized his dream of establishing a religious community that offered hospitality to all, he didn’t feel sorry for himself. He continued to press forward in life and follow the path of grace which God laid out for him. This eventually led him to a tiny village in Algeria, to live out his days among the Tuareg people.
Charles could have looked at his life as a failure, but he did not. With respect to his unrealized dreams and life struggles he said, “Crosses release us from this world and by doing so, bind us to God.” Charles’ complete trust in God continues to be an inspiration to many folks today. He shows us that God’s plan is always so much greater than our own and that when we embrace the life of grace, there is no room for self pity; only hope and joy.
Choosing to stay positive and live in hope is something that we can all do. The gal from the garden center modeled this attitude beautifully, even though she was still grieving the loss of her mother. Living this way does not belittle our personal pain, it gives meaning to it. It says that we trust in a God who is so much bigger than our own struggles and believe that He will lead us along a path of goodness, regardless of the bumps in the road.