Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Choosing and Mourning

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Mt 5:4)

Picture by James Foster, taken in 1986, found in Wikimedia under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Choosing is so much a part of our lives that we sometimes do it without thinking. Yet we are affected by our choices without realising it. In some cases, we may resent another because we think we are affected by his/her choices. In reality, to be affected by another’s choice is a result of our own choice as well. This is one of the ideas found in William Glasser’s Choice Theory and the counseling process called Reality Therapy. (see Choice Theory and Reality Therapy in Wikipedia.)

The following is based on my own reflections and is not meant as an academic or technical paper. I have used lists to simplify my thoughts.

Let us begin with some basic definitions regarding choices:
  • A choice is an option that we choose from a multiplicity of options.

  • Each option may have multiple elements.

  • There may be similar elements among options.
    Thus, Option A and Option B may be different merely in the addition of a single element.
    Option A + element x = Option B

For the dynamics involved in choice, we can determine several simple rules:
  1. When we choose one option, we reject all other options.

  2. Choosing to remain the same means we reject the options for change.

  3. Choosing to change means we reject the option to remain the same.

  4. There does not exist, within this world, a situation where there is only one single option.

Numbers 2 and 3 are there because we have a tendency to overlook the obvious. Number 4 is not obvious but I think I can illustrate it thus:
Consider a man who is forced to smuggle drugs by a gang who threatens to kill his son. One may think that he has no choice. However, he does. He can choose not to smuggle drugs and accept the death of his son, even though that might not be the natural choice of a loving father. It may sound cruel, but he has options. Perhaps only one option results in the survival of his son but he definitely has more than one option to choose from.

Every option chosen results in the rejection of other options. Sometimes these rejected options are significant to the person who had to make a choice. Let us continue to look at the man who had to choose between smuggling drugs and the life of his son. If he chose the life of his son, he has to mourn the loss of his innocence. He has committed a crime. He has to bear the consequence of his own actions. If he had chosen to preserve his own integrity, he might have had to mourn the loss of his son. Depending on different ways of looking at things, one might consider his options as the option for one life (his son’s) and the many lives that would be affected by the drugs he had smuggled. The morality of his actions are not so clearly defined; it is not a black or white situation. As to whether these are the only two options open to him, we can speculate indefinitely.

Let us return to the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Every time we make an option for Christ, we reject all other options that may be open to us. The mourning process involves accepting the loss. To accept, we normally look for a reason for the loss. Normally, if there is no reason for the loss, the mourning is longer and the grief more intense. When an elderly person passes away, we usually find it easier to accept his/her death, even if that person was in the pink of health and was infected by a virus. The same would not occur if the person who died was young. The parents of a toddler who had died of the same viral infection would have to go through a difficult grieving process because they would find it difficult to accept the reason for their child’s death. Often there is a questioning period in the grief, looking for a supernatural reason or a person to blame for the infection. When the parents accept that the death is the natural consequence of being present at the wrong place at the wrong time and getting infected, the process of grieving and mourning will reach its end and the parents will find closure. Only when the hurt begins to abate will the comfort that the beatitude talks of arrive.

In a similar vein, we need to properly mourn the loss of options when we make a decision. If we deny the loss and do not mourn, we will not be “comforted”. If we choose to follow the Lord’s way, we would have to mourn the loss of following the way of the world, which, in our own weakness, seems to have a special attraction to us. We have to mourn the loss of all the morally wrong ways of living if we want to live a moral Christian life.

For example, the world will tell us that we deserve to rest and relax on Sunday because of all the hours of work we put in during the week. Yet, if we choose the good Christian practice of going to Mass on Sundays, we will inevitably have to mourn the loss of extra hours of sleep on Sunday or the special television programmes that happened to be on at the same time as the Masses at the parish. We have to accept the loss and the reason for the loss: our choice to keep the Sunday holy and wholly for the Lord. If we do not begin the process of mourning, we will begin to bitch and moan about going for Mass and going on about worshipping God on our own, questioning the need for community worship. Such is the fate of those who choose and do not mourn.

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