Busyness: the Pursuit of Happiness

Nov7

The final lie that I believe keeps us running at a frantic pace is the notion that happiness is our highest purpose. And by happiness we mean an absence of pain, anger, or sorrow. And so, instead of stopping to deal with the inevitable wounds, disappointments, and failures of life, we run. We numb ourselves with activity and distractions. We skip like a stone along the surface of life, knowing that if we slow down we will sink into the murky depths below.

Because at heart most of us are filled with fear. We are haunted by ghosts of the past and the monsters lurking in our own souls. We are too afraid of the voices in our own heads to be alone and quiet with ourselves. We dread the darkness too much to accept it as a normal part of life.

Our Christian heritage, unfortunately, reinforces these lies. Spouting verses such as “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials…” and “In everything give thanks…” we mask our inner turmoil with brave smiles and fever-bright eyes. There are certain emotions that mature Christians are not supposed to feel—be it anger, fear, doubt, despair—and so we do our best deny their existence. We look askance at those who aren’t living in “victory.”

The tragedy of this deception is two-fold.

First of all, we rob ourselves of the very thing we want: true, lasting, deep happiness. It is as if, instead of facing the pain of pulling out a splinter, we choose to leave it in. And so the offending sliver continues to fester, prick, irritate, infect.

This gives me new insight on the beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What a strange “blessing.” Nobody wants to feel the gut-wrenching pain of grief. But the point is that grief will come, and unless we allow ourselves to mourn truly, deeply, authentically, we will never experience genuine comfort.

One man who was struck with huge tragedy reflected later that, “…the quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise.” (Gerald Sittser, quoted in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero) Unfortunately, many choose the dim haze of twilight over the black darkness of night, and thus never get to see the dawn.

Secondly, by denying certain parts of ourselves and our existence, we actually rob ourselves of a deep relationship with God. Throughout the ages theologians have asserted that a true knowledge of God is dependent on a true knowledge of self, and vice versa. In The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner explains that “…people who are afraid to look deeply at themselves will of course be equally afraid to look deeply at God.”

God is truth, and requires that we be authentic with others, with ourselves, and most of all with Him. He wants us to, as C. S. Lewis writes, “…lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” He wants us to give ourselves to Him fully. Fully. That means even the ugliest, nastiest, most wounded bits of us. This requires time, and honesty, and courage. But imagine the joy when we open our darkest corners to His light and find ourselves fully loved. Fully. Without performance or pretense.  Our truest happiness is obtained; we need run no further. And we are one step closer to really knowing God.