Bad to Good?
Can Bad News be Good News?
By Dr. Maria Ceclia M. Genove, Dean, College of Mass Communication
(Delivered on February 16, 2014, 4 p.m. at the Silliman Church for all dormitory residents on the occasion of the University Christian Life Emphasis Month.)
Theme: “Act Justly, Always Do What is Right” – Psalm 106: 3
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6: 33
“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all His commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world.” – Deuteronomy 28: 1
“A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” – Proverbs 1: 5
LET US PRAY. Parent God, our heads are bowed in supplication as we struggle to live and act justly and righteously according to your commandments. Teach us, Lord, that the path toward justice and righteousness can never be achieved without your intercession and guidance. If we do acts of justice and righteousness, these are made possible because You had willed them. This is our prayer in Jesus’ name.
Thanking the Lord for this wonderful opportunity to speak before you today as part of the celebration of the University Christian Life Emphasis Month is an understatement. Like most of you, Silliman University always held some kind of fascination for me as a young girl. When the time came for me to go to college, I prevailed upon my parents to allow me to come to Silliman. They agreed to my request on one condition – that I stay in the dormitory throughout my college life.
I kept good that promise to my parents because that was the right thing to do. But, a particularly unforgettable, nay, humiliating experience jolted me into realization that no two things can be equal and even if things may seem to be right on the surface, they may not always be just.
It happened on my sophomore year at Edith Carson Hall, which was called New Women’s Dormitory at that time. Since February had traditionally been the month for parties and balls, we were all invited one evening by Doltz Hall residents for a party at the Gymnasium. Naturally, all the girls were busily and excitedly preparing for the boys to pick us up. As the appointed time neared, my dormmates began to leave for the Gym. I was surprised when our desk assistant or D. A., Ate Belly Olis (who is now a public schoolteacher), called me from our floor intercom that our matron, Ate Noemi Catacutan (now Mrs. Costan and who recently retired from the university), wanted to see me. So, I went down from our west wing quarters garbed in my frilly party dress, and knocked on Ate Noemi’s bedroom door, with a bright smile on my face. Ate Noemi looked apologetic as she told me calmly: “Cecile, I’m very sorry, but your Mama filled out our questionnaire and said that you are not to be allowed to go out on parties that are not sanctioned or hosted by our own dormitory.” Ate Noemi held up the filled-out questionnaire for me to see. And, indeed, written in big, bold print were the two dreaded letters in the alphabet that I did not want to see: N – O – NO!
That experience brought tears to my eyes because I was truly hurt and frustrated. Had it not been for my being a Big Sis or a student resident counselor, as how we called our Big Sisters then, I would have opted to be absent from my classes for one week as a way of coping with my humiliation.
That was some bad news, of course! I was left alone in our dormitory. I never felt so miserable in my entire life than during that evening. I forced myself to sleep early so I can pretend I was not feeling well when my roommates would come home. I certainly did not want to listen to their happy stories as I could not relate to them.
After that, I did not call home for one week. I thought it was not just and it was not right for my mother to do that to me. What had I done to deserve such a harsh rule? Was I a bad daughter that I should be punished? My grades were very good and I belonged in the Class and College Honors. If it was a right and just decision, I did not feel it.
Bad things happen, and when we look back, we realize that good things sometimes come about not just in spite of, but because of, these bad things happening.
My mother’s seemingly unreasonable and unjust act of disallowing me to go to parties organized by other dormitories may have had its merits now that I have become a mother myself and, recently, a grandmother. What I had not experienced then, I did not miss because I did not know. In fact, I was the president of the NBSB Club, the No-Boyfriend-Since-Birth Club.
When we look back, for example, on times of personal turmoil that seem so laden with problems at the time, we can see that something good happens precisely because of these bad times. Perhaps we grew in some way, or the universe changed the positions of the constellations of our lives and took us some place we would never have discovered for ourselves.
Depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, I see this as being in the right place at the right time, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the case may be.
Best-selling author Margaret Silf in her book, The Other Side of Chaos, tells a story of a farmer who has a son and a horse, which he was very proud and fond of both. One day, the horse got out and ran off to freedom in the hills. “What bad luck,” the neighbors said. “I’m not so sure it’s bad luck,” replied the farmer.
The next night the horse came back, leading 12 wild horses after him. “What good luck!” cried the neighbors. “I’m not so sure it’s good luck,” replied the farmer.
Soon afterward, the son went riding on one of the wild horses, fell off, and broke his leg. “What bad luck,” said the neighbors. “I’m not so sure it’s bad luck,” replied the farmer.
A few days later, the army came to their town to recruit every able-bodied young man to be drafted to war. The farmer’s son was spared because of his broken leg.
Based on our upbringing and spiritual background, we each have varying images of God. We may think of God as someone who is waiting to catch us when we get things wrong, or as someone who disciplines us and makes us go back to the beginning and start again when we mess up.
Wouldn’t this be what most parents want for their children? Isn’t this the way most parents encourage their children – not by censuring them over and over, but by being with them where they are, whatever the mess, and helping them move forward?
Why don’t you pause for a moment and try to remember whether anything like this has ever happened to you. Can you remember bad times or unwelcome changes that seemed so unfavorable to you at the time, but, as you see in hindsight, actually brought great blessings into your life?
It isn’t just about survival; it is about growth and transformation. The new person in you that comes through the barrage of change will not be just a shadow of your former self, but truly a new you.
Through apparent disaster, you may discover skills you never knew you had. You may discover qualities that you thought you never had, such as resilience, patience, ingenuity, and empathy with others going through similar upheavals. This was recently manifested among fellow Filipinos who experienced the worst in the twin disasters that occurred one after the other last year – the Bohol earthquake in October and super-typhoon Yolanda in November. Our colleagues in the university had seen first-hand the sense of humor of fellow Filipinos, the ability to laugh through the tears and have a sense of hope amid seeming hopelessness around them.
Take a moment to sift through your experiences to see whether bad news has ever become good news in your own life.
Can bad news ever be good news? Can something absolutely wrong be absolutely right?
Yes, it can – if we put our trust in our God of justice and righteousness. Amen.