Posted by: ritagone | January 27, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

Sometimes the juxtaposition of two books that I’m reading at the same time is stunning in of their contrast.  That’s the case right now, as I’m deep into “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin as my current read and “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan, which is part of my morning quiet-time reading.

Rubin’s book is the result of a desire on her part a few years ago to discover and unearth what it means to be happy, and specifically what it means to her personally.  As a journalist and author, Rubin – living in New York City with her husband and two small daughters – spent a lot of time doing research and interviewing, taking notes, deciding what works for her and what doesn’t.  The result is a book in which each chapter deals with another topic concerning the pursuit of happiness.  I don’t find it a particularly profound book, because Rubin pays little attention to the spiritual dimension of life.  She prides herself, as a matter of fact, on the practical, solid changes she made in her life that brought her more happiness: being more organized, removing clutter, deciding to smile even when she didn’t feel like it, and such.  I’m reading it and thinking, “Yeah, that’s a good thing to do.  We all need hobbies that bring out our passion about life.”  But I keep thinking: “Yeah, but…what about God?  What about the soul?  What about our eternal perspective?”  Because Rubin’s chapter on spiritual matters deals with investigating Buddhism and the “wonderful and challenging” sayings of the Buddha, some insight into Judaism, and a smattering of this and that, a virtual smorgasbord of religious beliefs that are guaranteed to give you nothing of substance.

Is this book changing my life?  Not at all.  It’s interesting reading, and that’s about it.  Sometimes it’s humorous, but not often (and it could have been really funny with a better writer, I suspect).  After all, making a decision to change one’s life is fraught with the potential to be hysterical, because, as we all know, making these kinds of profound changes and adjustments in our lives is not easy but very compelling.  When she decides that she would be happier if she makes her husband happier, we can all relate.  So instead of picking on him, she decides to forgive when he sleeps later than she would like.  (I can really relate to this one!)  When she tries to tolerate obnoxious people she encounters at cocktail parties, thinking that this will ultimately make her happier, I smile a bit, knowing that this is really difficult to pull off.  I “get” what she’s trying to do, and I sympathize with the difficulty of doing it, but much of what she thinks will make her happy has nothing to do with what I think would make me happy.  (She’s into capturing memories via photographs and scrapbooks and such; I’m trying to get rid of 40 years of photographs and such.)

On the other hand, Francis Chan’s second book, “Forgotten God,” is all about the Holy Spirit, the member of the Trinity least discussed and understood.  God the Father we all “get,” Jesus, of course, is a very real and present help to us, but the Holy Spirit often gets relegated to the back burner of our lives because we don’t take the time to understand Him and get to know how He works in our lives.  Chan’s book delves into who the Holy Spirit is, what He does, what His relationship is to both God the Father and Jesus and believers.

Above all, Chan encourages his readers to spend time getting to know the Holy Spirit, since He resides within a person who has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ.  He is the Comforter promised by Jesus in the book of John.  He is the person of the Trinity who makes it possible for us to function.

In fact, just earlier this morning I was reading the chapter in Chan’s book in which Korean missionaries are imprisoned in Afghanistan for their faith, 23 of them, and two of them were actually put to death before the rest were released.  These missionaries – devoted to Christ and to bringing the gospel to a hurting world – divided the small Bible that they had with them and dispensed 23 portions to each prisoner so that that person could read and pray and have Scripture in their cells.  What a contrast to Rubin’s book, in which she’s trying desperately to find happiness through decoupage!

Someone once said, “Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them.”  It’s not that I begrudge Rubin her book, which I’m sure is mildly entertaining to her readers and might even result in a few positive changes in the lives of those who took the time to buy and read it.  It’s that the reality of happiness is that we are told in Scripture that it lies not in how clean our closets or not even in how well we deal with the difficult people in our lives but in our relationship with the God of the universe who created us and wants to fellowship with us – with you and me – because He loves us so much.

That’s really where happiness lies.

Chan got it right; Rubin got it wrong.

And that’s why sometimes reading two books at the same time can clear your head and give you a proper perspective on some aspect of life that needs dealing with.

I hope your day is going well, your week is resulting in much that is good and positive for you, and that you are spending time with the Holy Spirit who indwells you.  If these things are true, then go clean a closet or put together a scrapbook!  It certainly can’t hurt!

 

Regards,  Rita

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