Some people can glide from one unexpected circumstance to another adapting as they go. Even big changes like losing a job or being diagnosed with a grave illness don’t seem to change their mood. Then there people like me who when a simple plan is foiled feels and acts as if the earth has been struck by a giant meteor.
One of the hallmarks of mental health is the ability to be flexible especially in how one interprets life events. This skill needs to be practiced because it is in our nature to be creatures of habit. Teaching it to young children and then carrying the lesson through adolescence can even reduce the risk for depression. Saying to a child, “Find something else to make you happy,” when that child needs to choose a different cereal because the one he/she eats every morning is not available helps teach this skill. So does encouraging a young adolescent to come up with a couple of additional reasons why a teacher didn’t respond to his or her question besides, “He doesn’t like me.”
Even in our spiritual life some flexibility is healthy. I once brought my child to mass with a runny nose and slight fever because I didn’t want to miss the Sunday obligation. The priest happened to see me and chided my behavior. He said, “This child doesn’t belong at mass. He can infect everyone around him. Go home.” St. Elizabeth Seton’s spiritual director Fr. Tisserant said a similar thing (in a nicer way). “You tell me that you were prevented from going to church on Ash Wednesday. Your Lent has commenced with a sacrifice and with the mortification of the will, with good resolutions I hope God will bless… Remember what you have to do as a mother and in the employment which you have undertaken.”
We all want to be healthy of mind and spirit. Perhaps we should all practice flexibility of thought and pray for wisdom when we face change, apply rules, and practice familial, religious, and cultural traditions. In addition to everything else positive doing those things help us to be peaceful and joyful in life.
Quote from: Mrs. Seton by Fr. Joseph Dirvin, 1962: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 189. Painting by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), public domain.