Since becoming a father almost 8 years ago I have become more aware of the view outside my sheltered life and now I find myself thinking about what academics, thinkers and literature do I want my daughters to be exposed to. I have this desire to apologise for our behaviour as a community over the past 40 years because somehow I know I have contributed to the euphoric state we now enjoy and consider as something normal.
I grew up in a strict Christian Pentecostal household where the normal was to expect nothing other than wealth, success and satisfaction – assuming you hadn’t sinned somewhere. I thought life was meant to be happy and if you weren’t it was important to focus intently on the future where the happiness would allure the faithful like a hungry man to a chocolate fondue. The result was an aversion to reality and refusal to live in the present.
I remember being stunned by Scott Pecks book ‘Road Less Travelled’ particularly this quote positioned early in the book:
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
As a young man of 19 trying to figure out the ‘why’ of life, Scott Peck’s quote sent me on a journey that contradicted all I knew to be true about my faith up to that point and boy am I grateful for that.
The reason I was infatuated with happiness was I was taught it was a ‘right’ that I deserved. It was unthinkable to consider living in the mire for any period of time and joy was certainly not found there, it was found in the freedom of choice. Since that time I have been catapulted into a reality that demands I rethink what happiness is – in many ways I lost my freedom of choice.
My state of happiness is influenced by my starting point. What I thought was happiness was actually in its raw form, excess made available only by privilege. I needed to find the place where happiness no longer was the goal but the result of resolve. The challenges of life no longer matter – easy to say harder to live out.
This became a much more tangible idea when my daughter Sunny was born with severe Cerebral Palsy. Once I accepted the journey we were on rather than looking for the euphoric destination of a miracle, I soon realized that happiness was deep in the cracks of imperfection. It was nestled in the inconsequential success dismissed by many. It was broadcasting its presence in the cry of the meek.
Can happiness live contently in amongst sorrow? Of course, in fact it must. It is in the contrast of the sorrow that happiness makes the most sense. Happiness derived through success is like eating candy, it tastes great but you can’t live on it.
I must admit, I do cringe when people make awkward promises that things will get better – sometimes I think people say that because any other option will challenge their core belief and that is not much fun for anyone. The truth is things may not get better so how happiness enters my life is of great importance and if it means I have to unlearn a life time of distracting theology or philosophy then let the lesson begin.