The words of this title might be the most deceptively dangerous phrase in our vocabulary. We’ve been taught since childhood to place our hopes and desires in the stars:
When you wish upon a star . . .
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.
Surely these seemingly innocent rhymes are holdovers from pagan days of superstition when our fate was believed to be determined by the stars – probably because of their great distance and inscrutability. On the other hand, Shakespeare put words of practical wisdom in the mouth of the ambitious and rational Cassius:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings. (Julius Caesar, Act 1)
In other words, don’t just stand there and let things happen, Brutus. Take control of yourself and your destiny!
The actual truth lies somewhere in between wistful fantasies and the rugged individual’s belief in his own abilities.
I frankly confess that I read the daily astrology column. It’s on the same page as the comics, which is an indication of how seriously I take it. But there really are some sage comments in that column and anyway, I forget them about two seconds after I’ve read them.
But come now, why so strong and unfriendly a condemnation of a harmless habit from childhood? Please explain.
As adults, our “stars” come in different flavors. Our longing might be a return to the past when life was (or seemed) carefree. When we were younger, stronger and more active. When we were better looking.
Then there’s the star of the future. Mr. Micawber in Dickens’ David Copperfield is an example of this as he repeats from debtors’ prison his favorite mantra: “Something will turn up!” He relies on the assumption that he’ll somehow be discovered and will never again have to worry about supporting his family. This is not uncommon among the chronologically or emotionally immature. We long to tell these folks: Get up! Go to work at anything! God helps those who help themselves!
A different kind of daydream regards our perception of other people. We envy in them what seems to be their perfect life. They take vacations to exotic places; their property is manicured; their kids are well dressed. Little do we know about their real life circumstances which might be considerably more difficult than ours.
Some of our favorite – and useless – wishes include the following: I wish s/he would love me, love me more, or love me better. I wish I had a more attractive body: slimmer, or not so thin; healthier, not so sickly. I wish I had a better job where the people are great to work with, where I had a decent salary. I wish I had more leisure; I wish I had something to fill my long, empty hours.
Such dreams have no basis in reality. The words “I wish” confirm us in our attachment to what we don’t have and what we’re not likely to have. Maybe we don’t say these words to ourselves, much less aloud, but such fantasies are often the very underpinning of our fragile human existence. This attitude can become so ingrained that we don’t even stop to examine it. We just know we don’t like what’s happening now and deserve better – whatever that may be.
What would life be like if we scrubbed these futile wishes?
Possibly, it would range from difficult to unbearable, because wishes masquerade as hope. But hope is not the same as wishes.
Wishes encourage us to wallow in unreality, that is, the past which is irretrievable, or the future which is unpredictable.
Wishing produces restlessness. Hope produces security.
Hope, for the Christian, is firmly set on the belief that whatever occurs in our life — and whenever it occurs –fits the divine plan for what we are now and what we are to become. St. Paul tells us: For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? . . . We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:24, 28)
God made us to live in the PRESENT, because that’s where God is. God’s self-definition is I AM: that is, God is present in time and present in space. God is always here in the now. That’s where we need to focus, doing what is in front of us in a peace-filled, trusting surrender to God’s plan.
Seek first the kingdom of God . . . and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. (Matthew 6:33-34a)