Monday, July 16, 2007

The Pursuit of HappYness and the Reason Dreams Die

It’s happened more than once. I’m sitting at a café or restaurant, and the people at the table next to me start complaining. Sometimes it’s little things, their marriage or their family, little squabbles spoken with a smile and a laugh. Often times, however, it isn’t small. The laughter is there, but it’s forced, the smiles a weak attempt to cover their pain. It happens so often that there are days I become angry at the conversation, at all the complaining and arguing over subjects that seem to have little to do with their pain. People are not helping the poor like they should. Global warming is not being taken seriously. Government is not doing enough to help single mothers. It shouldn’t be like this, I think. People should be more thankful about what they’ve been given and stop arguing and complaining so much. That’s when I realize that I’m sitting at the table. That I’m the one complaining.

When I was a kid, I dreamed about making a difference when I was older. I dreamed about being someone who helped make the lives around me better. I wasn’t sure exactly how I would do that, but what I knew is that my life would matter. That I would matter. It was evident to me, even as a kid, that our world was in big trouble. Not, as many people reasoned, because governments were corrupt or because democracy was broken or because there were too many lazy people. Mostly it seemed to me, because there were too many people working very hard for very little, and too many people working very hard for everything else.

I could say all I want about the family next door with three cars and the nice home, but even as a kid I saw my friend’s dad coming home late, working extra hours at the office to afford such a rich lifestyle. I had friends who rarely saw their parents because they were always working. The question wasn’t laziness, it was something else entirely. But until we address it for what it really is, it’s time to stop mocking people who make money. It won’t win our world back. And it won’t bring the Kingdom to those who need it.

“It’s too much. The money should go somewhere else!” I said, unable to hold back the big sigh from escaping my lips. I was tired of the Benny Hinn’s of the world collecting millions of dollars without being accountable. Had we become so entranced by Western living that we’d completely forgotten the poor? Just thinking about it gave me a headache.

Jenny frowned and then smiled at me.

“I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

I nodded and gave her a hug goodbye. We’d been arguing for an hour. I strolled back towards the café, the sun warm on my back. Summer had arrived, but this year it’d been unusually mild for Ottawa, and I lingered in the parking lot, wandering to the edge of the lot among the trees. How could we do that? How could we be so greedy and still call ourselves Christians? It was all I could do to get my head out of my argument. When I finally strolled back inside, I was too tired to write. I’d used all my creative juice in my argument. I wandered around the bookstore for a while, picking through magazines and assorted books off the shelf. Summer was a quiet time for me, and even this year, transition that it was, it afforded a great deal of time towards writing and reading. I’d scheduled myself to finish an article today, but I didn’t have anything left. Instead, I took my coffee and bag and headed back out to my car. Maybe if I went to the gym for awhile I’d find some more energy.

Two hours and a good workout later, I was still in no position to write. No position to pursue my dream. The lack of production was discouraging. As long as I could remember I’d wanted to be writer. I’d taken a job with the school board specifically so that I could write during the night and summers when school wasn’t in session. And yet, the day had passed and I’d spent all my energy arguing with a friend.

On the way home I'd stopped at the corner store and rented the Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith. I'd seen it before, but watching again how this man pursued after his dreams only reminded me of how easy it was to forget what life was about. It was hard not to admire a man who'd gone through so much to become successful. There was a certain sadness however, as I watched the film. Happiness was indeed something worthy of our pursuit, but what did happiness mean? Who defined it? Was it a million dollars? Was it providing for our family? Or was it something more? So many people had pursued their dreams, worked very hard to become successful. Large houses. Lots of money. But what if we were buying into the wrong kind of dream? What if God wanted to give us even more, by showing us how to give it all away?
Either way, arguing was simply not the answer. We spent far too much time wasting our energy on argument instead of action, a laity of lawyers who did not realize what they were doing.
When I’d first started writing at a nearby Starbucks, long before it became my home base, I hated the coffee. It was too strong. Too expensive. Too… everything. It took me six months to get used to it, but when I did, I found I couldn’t go back to the mild, cheaper Tim Horton’s of my youth. And when people asked me about it, I knew I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t try. I would smile at whatever they said, even when some of my old hometown friends ribbed me about being a snob, and shrug my shoulders. I preferred Starbucks, or equally good coffee. Even if I had to pay extra for it. I didn’t bother arguing because there was nothing to say. And yet, I know many people, including my dad, who have switched to Starbucks. It wasn't my logic that changed his mind, but my passion.

I thought about my discussion with my friend earlier that day. Although I’d argued eloquently, or so I imagined, it hadn’t changed a thing. And yet, for the rest of the day I was useless. Jesus taught his disciples to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” Our daily bread. Although He was talking about how God provided for our daily needs, I wondered if God wasn’t also talking about our daily limits. In the West, because of the Greek-Roman influence, we often equated talking with doing. Or perhaps it was human nature. To talk about something was to do it.
Maybe the issue wasn’t that we working hard enough, or that we didn’t care. Maybe we were simply talking too much. Maybe we let our dreams die because we spent all of our time talking about them instead of acting on them. We had a million reasons not to act on our dreams. It wasn’t practical. It wasn’t the right time. It didn’t fit our schedule. But none of those reasons gave us any satisfaction. What they did was leave us sitting around the table, arguing instead of acting. Telling stories about what should be instead of living the life God called us to live.
I believe that inside of every one of us burns a lingering fire, a hunger for the life that we were called to, the one that says work hard, work to be happy, but work for the better of those around you.

More and more I am convinced the West is not rich because it is lazy and lucky, but that it is rich because it works for the wrong things. I am equally convinced that the scourge of loneliness and depression, among other things, is a direct result of our misunderstanding of what we should be working for. God has called us to something better. Something more.

I pray this week that God may reveal all that He has planned for us. That He will show us just how much we can make a difference, not in words, but in action. And that in doing so, we will achieve the fullness of life He so desperately longs for His children.