We go through life struggling. This is true for everyone. We all live with inferiorities, dashed dreams, and deep frustrations. Because of this we tend to grow jealous. We begin to envy other people’s lives, seeing in their lives the things that we are missing within our own. This increases our disappointment with who we are and, all too often, puts us into an attitude within which we refuse to accept what is good, happy, creative, and pleasurable within our own lives.
Instead of picking up our own lives and living them creatively, we put them on hold. We focus on something we are missing, and desperately crave – a marriage partner, a certain friendship, a certain achievement, a certain prestige, a certain physical appearance, a certain fame or place to live – and we relativize and belittle our own lives to the point of finding them unhappy and meaningless. We live in brackets, waiting; always waiting for this certain something to come along and fulfill our lives. When this happens, a deep restlessness sets in.
There is a beautiful image in Scripture that depicts this. After the resurrection of Jesus, his disciples are unable to pick up the spirit of his new presence. They want, instead, to have their old earthly Jesus back. Eventually, they are reduced to huddling in fear in a locked room, paralyzed. When they do receive the spirit of the resurrected Christ, they burst from that room, now alive with the spirit for their actual lives. When we live in restless unhappiness, not satisfied with our situation in life because we are unmarried, or because we are not married to whom we would like to be, or because we would want a different job, or different family, or different body, or a different set of friends, or a different city to live it, we live, like the Apostles, huddled in fear.
Let me illustrate this with an example, Brian Moore’s novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne: Judith Hearne is a woman approaching menopause. She is bright, talented, educated, artistic, and gifted with a pleasant personality and pleasant looks. But she desperately wants to be married. She is deeply frustrated with being single and does not consider herself a complete person. Consciously and unconsciously, her whole life is geared towards finding a husband. Because of this, her entire present life has little meaning or satisfaction for her. She wants to be married and has decided that, for her, there can be no meaning, no genuine reality, outside of that. Early on in the story, she meets a man who interests her, and who she senses is interested in her. He is a pleasant man, though he is also a calculating schemer and dilettante. It is soon apparent to the reader that Judith would be taken for a ride in this marriage. However, because she is desperate, and this is a real chance at marriage, Judith pursues the relationship and, in a vague kind of way, does fall in love. On his part, the man sees her as a possible business partner, as someone whose money he could use.
At a certain point, Judith proposes to him. She is rejected and the disappointment, coupled with the hurt of rejection, triggers within her a deep depression which takes her on an alcoholic binge and eventually leads to a nervous breakdown and a mental hospital. The story climaxes with her ex-boyfriend coming to visit her in the hospital and announcing that he has changed his mind and wants to marry her after all. She refuses and in her explanation to him of her decision we learn things to help us understand the connection between ascension and Pentecost:
These are her words:
“When you are a little girl you dream of the perfect man, of that perfect person who will make you whole, who will give you reality. He will be handsome, and good, and kind and generous. He will be perfect.
“Then, as you get older, you revise your expectations downward. After awhile, he doesn’t have to be so perfect, or handsome, or good.
“Finally, when you get to be my age, he doesn’t have to be handsome, good, or loving at all. Anyone will do….even if they are common as dirt! You’ll take anyone because you think that, alone, you aren’t anything.
“But I’ve learned something here. I’ve grown to know that, even alone, single, just by myself, I am something! I have reality!”
She throws his address card away as she leaves the hospital and we see in her face that she is now a woman of inner strength and inner joy. She has a new calmness, attractiveness and energy. The restlessness is gone. She has received the spirit of her own life. You sense too that, now, if she wants to, she will easily find someone good to marry… now that she no longer desperately needs to.
Pentecost in not an abstract mystery. We are asked to accept the spirit of our actual lives. When we do this, then we no longer belittle our own lives but, like Judith Hearne, know that even with all our inferiorities and frustrations, just by ourselves, we are something.