I am becoming more aware how overwhelmingly negative our world has become. There is a lot going on out there, that’s for sure, but my biggest fear is that all the negative has seeped deeply into our hearts and minds as well. We can feel overwhelmed to do anything about what’s happening. I fear we just may tip over that tipping point as a society, never to return. The negative has a way of corroding and corrupting and ultimately paralyzing us from trying to make things better. This is scary. I’ve never been there before.

There is of course the inescapable negative, violence in our streets, destruction and mayhem flaring up in too many places, seemingly uncontrollable killings. There is also simmering racism that continues to distort the dignity of too many human beings. And then, to top it off, there is the constant, persistent Covid cloud hanging over our future.

Look, I have no illusions that the problems we face, and they are severe, are going away any time soon. I see our political leaders, and look at our political institutions, become so creaky, so divided, paralyzed in fact, with few solutions offered up. I continue to maintain our problems are deeply cultural—family and marriage, schools and universities, a clear, life-giving voice for the church, our neighborhoods—and yet cultural problems are not easily or swiftly addressed. They’re often not even noticed.

I look out on all of this and feel overwhelmed, like there is nothing I can do, nothing I can contribute to move us toward a better world. I’m a fixer by nature, a builder, or re-builder, certain that my faith tradition offers an answer. And yet, I am sure I am not alone when I sometimes shrug with sadness and resignation and feel no choice but walk away from all the madness. Is there anything I can do? It seems overwhelming.

Yes, indeed, there is turmoil out there, but I have become more aware how profoundly negative my own perspective has become, the slant from which I begin to look at things, not just the pervasive media reports, though we can expect the blatantly negative there, but perhaps more dangerous, the negative instincts that seep into our hearts. I hate it. This is not me, I say to no one in particular. Is it possible we become so negative, so overwhelmed, we actually give up? Yes, it is entirely possible. This will be our real tipping point, should the negative just take over our lives.

I’ve been reading a book by Joan Chittister called The Gift Of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. It’s been a fabulous book for me at this moment, because, well, yes, I am growing a bit older. Growing older can be an enormous temptation to become negative. Chittister’s whole premise, though, is that we can begin again, start over, retool, regroup, reorient ourselves, for the small things, yes, but as well for the deeper places where we really live. We can actually become different people, perhaps vibrantly positive.

That’s a Christian notion. It’s called conversion, transformation. It can happen all through our lives. Yes, indeed, we want to make things better in the world, but so often that change must begin within, a total reorientation of how we look at life. Chittister makes a proposal: “We can decide to live with joy,” she proclaims with confidence. We can make the choice to adopt transforming joy. It’s our decision. We can choose joy, “or we can allow ourselves to live looking back with bitterness. . . . But whichever we decide—bitterness or joy—decide we must. The rest of our life depends on it.”

Chittister then offers this promising possibility: When we choose joy, it’s as if life comes “pouring into us, almost more fully than we can sometimes bear.” Doesn’t that sound appealing right now? Isn’t that the place to begin to change our lives? It might even change our world.

Van Gogh, Wheat Field with Crows, July 1890, painted in the last weeks of his life.