"Affliction produces endurance. And endurance develops strength of character. And character strengthens our hope - and that hope does not disappoint." Romans 5:4-5a
As a fan of history and of action movies, I was very much looking forward to seeing Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter this summer. For me, this was going to be pure popcorn entertainment in a cool air-conditioned theater on a hot sunny day.
For the most part, it was a creative thrill ride, but after leaving the multiplex, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed, tempered only by the fact that I was really trying to like what I just saw.
But the more I reflected on the film, the more disappointed I got. From plot holes to its video-game editing, from lackluster acting to diverting from some really good story points in the original novel on which it's based, Vampire Hunter just wasn't what I had hoped it would and should be.
At some point in our lives, all of us have been disappointed by something or someone. Whether it's a day that didn't go as planned, a weather forecast that was completely wrong, an encounter with a person that derailed, or finding out that someone in our lives made the wrong decisions or said the wrong things... we run into disappointments more often than we'd like.
The under-appreciation of a summer popcorn flick is nothing compared to other, more critical events in life that might disappoint us - but it illustrates the point that, every now and then, we will face realities that run counter to our hopes and expectations.
We can often view disappointments as punishments from God, or at the very least, see them as personal attacks upon us as we shout out, "Why me, God? Why now?" They are not a curse like the bite of a vampire, but an occasion to rise to new heights.
Despite its flaws, the film itself shows how Abraham Lincoln (played as an adult by Benjamin Walker) struggles with his mother's death (by a vampire in this retelling) - first in sadness, then in vengeance, but ultimately in strengthening his resolve to end suffering, oppression, and slavery in any form.
How we respond to our disappointments and struggles is what is important, not the intensity of the suffering that spurred us on. Life has plenty of sadness and frustration, but if we stop there, it only grows. We can choose to wallow in disappointment, lament our present circumstances, and tell others of our hurt and anger; or we can move towards something better.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells those of us who will encounter bad days in our lives: "Affliction produces endurance. And endurance builds strength of character. And character strengthens our hope - and that hope does not disappoint." (Rom. 5:4-5a)
We will all face affliction of some sort at some point in our lives, from sickness to disappointment to outrage. For a time, it can be comforting to stay in that place and seek sympathy from others. It can be tempting to build strength through proclaiming our status as a victim. But this is not real strength for it keeps us grounded in the negative, and often inspires divisiveness against those who initially disappointed, angered, or hurt us.
Instead, we are, as St. Paul says, to endure (not suffer through), strengthen our character (not strengthen our argument), and to work towards hope and reconciliation (not hatred or bitterness). When we do that, in any circumstance, our disappointments will begin to fade away.
This process also helps us to see the good in the worst of circumstances. Even though Vampire Hunter was far from the best movie I have seen so far this year, it did have some moments that I did enjoy and for which I am grateful that I had a chance to see on a hot summer day.
It reminded me that the real life Lincoln had a strength of character to overcome his afflictions and adversity that didn't require wielding a silver-coated axe or fighting vampires in the South. It reminded me that Lincoln was an action hero that conquered with incredibly moving words and a firm commitment to the best principles of the nation.
This real Lincoln was the one who once said that, despite the fact that half the country hated him and the Republic, we must still act "with malice toward none, with charity to all." So much of his fractured nation had disappointed Lincoln, but he chose not to wallow in that frustration or act out of spite against those people; instead, he pointed us towards forgiveness, compassion, and love of neighbor.
On our worst days, or when we are incredibly disappointed by another person or circumstances beyond our control - or even by our very selves, would we stand up for those gospel values as Lincoln so boldly did, and as Christ so clearly defined for us?
In God's eyes, it is not so much how or why we fell down or who or what pushed us to disappointment - but rather, how we rose up again - and how we found His goodness despite the worst.
Let us all pray that frustration and failings will never have the final word, for with God by our side, in our hearts, and through our actions, the hope we offer will always conquer disappointment.