Life is most likely uncertain for many of us right now, and no doubt it can get overwhelming sometimes. Life is hectic. If you’re anything like me, you make great strides in trying to stay positive (you really do try!) but sometimes fall into those habitual ways of thinking - you know, the gloom and doom, we’re all gonna die kind of mindset.
We call ourselves ~realists~; someone who wants to be positive but sometimes, falls short. It can be tough always trying to be positive. Writing on this topic got me thinking, what is the one thing that I have found has been the key to maintaining relentless hope, and dare I say, optimism?
Faith in a God that never changes, whose love and greatness will be the only thing that stays constant in our lives. It’s easy in theory but acting on this belief can be its own trial.
Regaining Your God-given Purpose
When life feels uncertain it can be easy to feel a sense of purposelessness. This almost certainly leads to despair and a lack of joy in the gifts of life. So step one to forging this relentless optimism is regaining that structure.
I know for me personally, when I skip the alarm, neglect getting exercise and fresh air, and ignore my responsibilities and chores at home, it doesn't take long for me to feel stuck. In this semester break, I didn't create a structured timetable. I slept in too long, stayed up too late and never really got out of the house, which left me feeling a complete mess.
God gives us a set of responsibilities that seem small, but we must remember that “whoever can be trusted with small things can also be trusted with big things” (Luke 16:10). This can be as simple as making sure we are diligent in where we spend our time, not being lazy and sleeping in for no reason, looking after the body He gave us and serving our families by making sure the dishwasher is done when it needs to be and in a cheerful manner. Otherwise, it’ll be difficult to feel prepared for the greater things God has planned for us.
God has had our purpose determined since the beginning of time. He individually “knit together” each of us in our mother's womb, and created each of our “inmost being” (Psalm 139). Being “fearfully and wonderfully made”, each of us is unique and have our very own purpose on this earth - one that nobody else could ever do like you.
As a student who still has a few more years on the horizon before I finish my degree, it has been tricky understanding and always feeling confident in this purpose. When you're in a limbo stage of life, nothing feels completely certain. You may feel like life hasn’t truly started and unsure when it will. For me personally, I often lose the bigger picture of why I’m a student which is why it’s important to regain some perspective.
Our purpose is to love God above all else and to love others, by serving our neighbour. As a student, even studying diligently and putting my best effort into my work glorifies God and I know I'm preparing myself to work and serve him in the future with my qualifications. You too can dedicate anything in life to God, no matter how small it seems.
Each of us should use “whatever gift [we] have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). If, like me, you have been struggling to recognise this part of your life, it may be a sign that you need to balance this with serving in other areas of your life.
When you feel down or a bit all over the place, go and do something nice for someone else. Something as simple as helping your mom cook dinner, taking out the rubbish bins without being asked or listening to a friend whom you know is going through a tough time and being there for them. Jesus himself said that it is in giving that we receive (Acts 20:35). I promise this will bring you an overwhelming sense of purpose, joy and peace, and the more you do, the more gifts you receive.
At times you might feel you don’t have the strength to do these things; that you barely have a grasp on what's going on in your own life. In these times it's important to remember that God enriches us in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion (2 Corinthians 9:10-15).
Give and Receive
Another thing that has been so helpful in this journey-to-optimism is making sure I spend quality time with others. It can be easy to pass off on going to that party, rushing through dinner with the family to do some extra work or avoid spending even five minutes with the people in your household to ask how they’re doing.
We were made for community and friendship. There have been studies done showing that isolation and loneliness increases our risk of premature death, dementia and risk of infections.
I have found spending time with others and focusing less on my own life brings me so much more joy in the simple things. Watching a TV series is so much more fun with your sister than alone!
Getting out and meeting people, and being with the people you love, is such an important part of developing a positive mindset. For “two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow” and when two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Draw Near to Him
Finally, in the times when we are at our lowest, it’s a testament to our faith to draw closer still to God. It can be easy to neglect saying prayers or reading the Bible in stressful times. It takes extra effort especially if we start to think it won’t help, but “draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
Faith is made strong in adversity, and faith in God is perfected in moments when it is needed most. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So when you are going through these uncertain and trialling moments in life, “seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually” (1 Chronicles 16:11).
For me, I take small moments of the day to read my Bible, even if it's only a few verses and focus on them. Writing down verses that inspire you or putting them up on your wall. Praying often; I recommend using the rosary or a novena, in particular to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Reading about the saints also helps with understanding the realities of human struggle and how it is possible to get through them.
Most importantly, giving thanks is hard in tough times, but a grateful heart can overthrow a negative mindset. I have recently started what I call a ‘gift list’, where I write down every day the gifts from God that I am grateful for. The ‘gifts’ on it can be anything from “My morning coffee” to “Seeing my parents laugh and joke with one another”.
Finally, always remember that God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1-3).
Finding balance, and a true sense of purpose in Christ, giving of ourselves and spending time with others and praying always are some ways I have found to help me become more optimistic, but I still work towards it every day. St. Paul said it perfectly in Romans; “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality”. Remember, Christ wants us to have this joy, to have life and to have it to the full.
“‘The mountains may shift, and the hills may be shaken, but my faithful love won’t shift from you, and my covenant of peace won’t be shaken,’ says the Lord." (Isaiah 54:10)