The Good, the Bad, and the Meniscus

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Engaging the New Year. Read other perspectives here.

Terrorism. Daughter's wedding gown shopping. Presidential candidates sparring. Family living with cancer. Disney with the grandchildren. Racism. Philanthropists giving generously. Senseless shootings. Random acts of kindness. Positives and negatives in abundance. A rearview mirror view of my 2015.

I've always struggled with the glass half full, half empty phenomenon. I am a depressive by nature but encourager by spiritual gifts, Methodist by upbringing and calling to ministry, Benedictine by spiritual practice, scientist by training, and a progressive Evangelical when it comes to social issues. This year was a perfect storm for this backyard hermit to see the best in folks, the worst in humanity, and just hang out at the meniscus in my water glass.

A meniscus is the phenomenon in a glass, test tube, or pipette when liquids and air meet, forming a curve. Water tends to travel up the sides, held in tension, more attracted to the container than its own molecules. That's where I am. Held in tension between looking at the world in a positive or negative light, too tempted to head toward the empty part of the glass.

To be truthful, much of my religious upbringing, training, and experience contribute to the times I've see the glass as half empty. I didn't need headlines to alert me to sin, scandal, and finger-pointing in the church and the world around me. My training in congregational development, race relations, and sexual ethics gave me a bird's eye view. The fear and finger-pointing I see among evangelical friends who believe they are persecuted here in the United States, phobias expressed toward others, waving of guns in a pulpit increased in the past months. My glass could have dried up long before this year but it hasn't.

As an eclectic Christian, my resource pile is a big one. I pray. I study biblical and Christian history, through scripture and theologians, looking for the tools other believers used to survive tumultuous times. Three things now fill my glass and keep it half full for me: God's work, trust, and hope.

John Wesley proclaimed, "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can." Benedictine Joan Chittister encourages me, "In Benedictine spirituality, work is what we do to continue what God wanted done.... God goes on creating through us. Consequently a life spent serving God must be a life spent giving to others what we have been given."

Nothing makes me descend into a negative worldview more than just sitting and pondering the ills of the world without doing anything about it. Even the smallest task of cleaning out a drawer and getting needed items to a ministry thrift store is enough to get me out of the doldrums. Listening fully to others struggling with spiritual and worldly matters and, yes, ironically, pointing out to them how the glass is indeed half full helps me see it too. It's also about pointing out the very things that empty the glass, not ignoring the issues but bringing them into the light.

My word for 2015 was trust (myoneword.org) — trusting God, trusting people, trusting my own instincts. For every time I trusted God to lead me, letting go of some dreams, stepping out in faith to comment on injustice, God gave me strength to do so and affirmation afterward. More and more, faith kept the meniscus at the halfway mark. I'm letting faith be bigger than my fear, as the saying goes.

Finally, I have hope. Hope in the form of baby Jesus. Hope in the form of Jesus the Messiah. Hope in the form of Life everlasting and Holy Spirit's guidance. The world was in turmoil when Jesus was born, died, and resurrected. "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer" (Romans 12:12). Hope is the lens through which I try to see the world on a daily basis. Hope is what keeps me going when there are no other words to say, no explanations to be given.

What's ahead for me in 2016? There's going to be good. There's going to be bad. It's going to be a challenge; preparing for it already has been. But I'm used to sitting on the meniscus with God's help.