The Pursuit of Happiness
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future". Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
I used to think my life was somewhat like The Truman Show; every actor in place ready for their appearance on The Cherie Show, their lines memorised, jokes planned (‘Good morning! And if I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night!’) All the details of my life would fall effortlessly into place, the script written before my birth, by the Divine Creator.
But you know what, I have a pretty lousy imagination when it comes to the word ‘plans’. And not only that, but my ‘plans and purposes’ wires got crossed with my ‘Generation-Y-sense-of-entitlement’ wires and I assumed ‘plans to give you a hope and a future’ was a checklist of all the earthly things I desired: happiness and ease of living, check. Amazing hair, check.
I have rarely achieved these (although my hair is looking pretty good at the moment) and accordingly, found myself having a minor existential and spiritual crisis. And not only that, but I had the gall to question God’s sovereignty and concern for my well-being over this whole palaver of ‘plans and purposes’.
I hadn’t even been aware of the extent to which my generational attitudes and expectations have permeated my sense of theology and God’s relationship to the outworking of my life, until now.
There was a brilliant article circulating the blog ‘Wait But Why’ titled ‘Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy’. The author, Tim Urban, introduces his stick figure protagonist Lucy, a typical Gen Y-er and explains how her expectations of life were formed. Her Baby Boomer parents revelled in their new-found liberation and secure careers which their parents encouraged them to cultivate.
Because of their better experience of careers and financial security, Lucy’s parents raised her with a sense of ‘optimism and unbounded possibility’. Lucy can do whatever she wants to do. And not only that, but Lucy is special.
“Sure,” Lucy has been taught, “everyone will go and get themselves some fulfilling career, but I am unusually wonderful and as such, my career and life path will stand out amongst the crowd.” So on top of the generation as a whole having the bold goal of a flowery career lawn, each individual GYPSY thinks that he or she is destined for something even better—“
Lucy will have a shiny unicorn on top of her flowery career lawn.
I think my theology got caught up in this thinking and I gleaned the message because I have faith in God, I will be even more special and successful in whatever my chosen path is, because God is orchestrating it. I am the shiny unicorn.
I’ve seen this happen to friends too; one friend who wouldn’t take the conventional steps to pursue an acting career because she felt ‘it would happen differently’ for her, No agent, no show-reel, no Neighbours…Often, even from the pulpit, there is a strong message every week that YOU ARE SPECIAL which further reinforces the whole shiny unicorn, plans and purposes kerfuffle.
Glennon Melton, author of the bestseller ‘Carry On Warrior’ said to her kids: ‘you should walk confidently because you are a child of God, but you should also walk humbly, because so is everyone else.’
I truly believe that God is intimately interested and involved in my life. I also believe that He is intimately interested and involved in everyone else’s lives too.
God’s ‘plans and purposes’ for my life could make absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. His plan is more likely going to involve my wholeness rather than my happiness.
Hugh McKay, an Australian social researcher, talks about this concept of wholeness in his book ‘The Good Life’ : “I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that - I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness…wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are…ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.”
There is a huge difference between wholeness and happiness and I truly believe God is infinitely more interested in the contents of my heart than me feeling warm and fuzzy emotion.
God is ruthlessly after my heart.
It would be difficult not to be moved by the plight of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the recently executed members of the Bali 9 drug ring, despite the media overload.
Andrew Chan was praying for his freedom. As were Christians around the world. But the hour came and he was still led to his death. I experienced something similar when a beloved member of my church community passed away despite prayer and fasting.
“Sweep me away in your love, nothing else matters”, the words of a song wash over the congregation gathering for Andrew Chan’s celebration service.
The word that several people who spoke at Andrew’s funeral used was transformation. In his short life, Andrew Chan underwent the most extraordinary transformation. David Soper, a close friend of Chan’s who officiated the service said ‘in the worst of circumstances, God did his best work.’
Andrew Chan was singing God’s praise and staring down his executor’s right until the last moment. He was a free man, not in the way we would hope or imagine, but a way that completely transcends life itself.
‘This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say ‘The Lord is our God’ Zechariah 13:9
God will reign sovereign, despite of and certainly in the face of death. ‘When the darkness closes in Lord still I will say…blessed be the name of the Lord’. It’s our faith that’s cultivated in the darkness, our souls that are refined in fire.
That’s the kind of God I’m interested in, not some God who doubles as my PA; arranging my life circumstances in order to bring about my ultimate comfort and happiness, or career as a motivational speaker.
Shiny unicorn I am not. I will be content as a sheep munching away on flourishing pastures and will hope and pray with fear and trembling I don’t wander too far from the shepherd.
Cherie Lee leads many lives: by night she writes, by day she works with intellectually disabled people and some nights, she goes and fights injustice with her team of crime-fighting cats, who also have many lives.