As I was going to college, one of my favorite singers was the folk singer Joni Mitchell. One of the memorable passages in her always poetic lyrics is: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone / they paved paradise and put up a parking lot!”
In that wonderful line she clearly highlights a true tendency of human nature: we take things for granted until someone takes them away from us. We just get used to them and don’t avert to them much after that, as we constantly search for diversions.
Many times have I gotten to a point while walking through an art museum that if I saw another da Vinci I would scream (I exaggerate a bit)! When I go to a museum now, I choose the painting or paintings I want to see and I spend half an hour just looking at that one painting. For instance, when I went to the National Gallery in Dublin, I just wanted to see the famous painting by Caravaggio “The Arrest of Christ” which had recently been discovered hanging in the Dining Room of one of the Jesuit rectories in Ireland. I went to the Museum at opening time and asked what room the painting was in. While the crowd walked to room number 1, I proceeded the other way to the room where the painting was hanging. I had a full 30 minutes to view the painting with no interruptions (I was alone in the room except for the security guard!). When the crowd started to filter in I left the museum totally satisfied. The truth that I had observed in myself was that I got a kind of ‘museum-itis’ as I tried to process too many masterpieces; I could not do it. I had to limit myself, and then I got immense pleasure from that one painting.
I use this example of something that, I believe, is in each one of us. Our powers of appreciation are limited. We have to be aware of this since we can unintentionally miss a great deal of goodness around us. Coupled with this limit on appreciation is our tendency to fall into the pit of negativity – the opposite of appreciation. How often has it happened to you when someone praises you to high heaven but then mentions one reservation or negative point? Suddenly all you can think of and believe in and argue with inside of yourself is that one tiny negative point!
When we bring these tendencies into our spiritual lives we can see the dangers ahead. We can miss the goodness of people and hang onto their deficiencies. We cannot see how we are graced and empowered by God but concentrate instead on the things in our life that make us despondent.
The answer to all this is to develop our powers of appreciation by having an attitude of gratitude about our lives and the graces that God has given us. It also requires us to see the hand of the evil one when we are discouraged by our faults and concentrate on our past sins. Someone once wrote: Discouragement is always the language of the devil.
A realistic approach to our lives which takes into account these two tendencies will go a long way to keeping us on the straight and narrow!
It is a lot easier not to build the parking lot and to enjoy the Paradise that God has given us!