On Friday while taking my sick toddler for a walk I bumped into a friend from the neighborhood who I have known from my original days in 2003. We garden together, have been known to play scrabble, used to drink red wine together (she is now in AA), and have heart to heart discussions. Eventually after walking down to the nearby beach and back we got to the topic of the purpose of life for us, and for most people.
I said most people want to live the good life, that is be financially secure (ideally earning increasingly more money), have a house, a family, be respected and admired by others, and experience frequent times of fun and happiness (often in the forms of vacations, hobbies, music, entertainment, etc.). Nonetheless many are unhappy.
While we strive for increasing achievement and “happiness” people around the world are in economic slavery, are raped in wars, die violent deaths. I think of the case of Tori Stafford- I have read the chilling accounts in Canadian newspapers about how this elementary school aged girl was brutally murdered. What a horrible way to end such a beautiful life. With the Kony 2012 campaign I have read how young girls are used as sex slaves in places of war- what kind of short life is that? Likely not one filled with happiness, especially with our culture’s definition of happiness.
When bringing this up in our discussion we also noted that our being or feeling unhappy or despair over the injustice in the world isn’t doing the situation any good.
For years my friend had engaged as an activist against gentrification in our neighborhood, and against war around the world. It didn’t seem to matter how much frustration and angst she directed towards these issues- it felt as if the world continued in its ways. What she and I reflected on was that being unhappy and up in arms about a situation and denying ourselves joy in life didn’t advance our causes anymore than those who still managed to speak up for those who needed justice but actually stopped to enjoy life.
Today my friend earns a very modest income but is content with the small things of good she does: mentoring a sponsee, speaking words of encouragement and wisdom to those who are seeking it, spending time in the wilderness up at a cabin, and tending our shared garden.
She reflected that in years past she inherently thought that to live out the gospel it had to hurt (being persecuted for righteousness) and if it didn’t than she wasn’t truly living it out. Today she allows herself simple joys of life. She is not chasing after bigger and better but is looking for meaning where she is at. Bigger or better either in a material/financial realm, but also in the realm of living out Jesus’ teachings.
I, too, often can caught up in trying to live out the gospel so much that it hurts. And then I stop and think- oh when did I last truly take time to do something that helped me feel joy. It can be quite hard as a mother of a toddler and a full-time student. Because each moment I have free I have to make choices between school work and relaxation and also being there for others.
However, happiness is not always found in “me” time. For example, tonight at home group my husband was looking after our little girl and for I truly got to listen to the thoughts of others on what it means to be a child of God from a number of people: an older nurse, and an older lady with mental and physical disabilities and I felt truly humbled and honored both at once.
There is a lot of emphasis on achieving happiness in our culture and in psychology. There is an idea that to be happy everything in life should be going right (i.e. the above noted recipe for the good life). However, this definition of happiness does not coincide with a gospel definition of what a life in Christ looks like where we face persecution, and are willing to give up everything for the cross. But living out life in difficult circumstances (i.e. not being upwardly mobile) does not mean that we must face sure unhappiness or that we should not seek joy and happiness in whatever lot we find ourselves. I have to remind myself- especially in my predicament of juggling a number of different roles- that I do not have to wait until my life is all “together” to enjoy it but can decide to seek out happiness in the moments and life path that God has given me.