Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why I Don't Want to be Happy: Thoughts on Humbly Rising Above

"The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." 
-Pope Benedict XVI

Greatness: in no profound way, it's something we all want. Legacy-leaving, being important, being memorable, making an impact- big or small; celebrated or subtle; personal or on a bigger scale. I think we ultimately want it subtly, inherently- we want to matter, be important, be memorable really- not in appearance or what others see or think of us. We want it to be true in the deepest part of who we know we are.

More than we actually want others to know or believe we are worthy, we want our worth to be derived from a humble yet certain respect for a quality of our soul. We want to know it personally- and we want something more intimate than simply 'other people,' more intimate than 'the universe,' more intimate than our own minds, even, to acknowledge it too.

There's an important notion about this quote, or what it expresses, that's tied to that. We were not made to try to be great, or to mimic greatness- we were made for greatness. It's inherently a part of who we are and who we are designed to be. Each of us, by way of coming into being who we were made to be, is a carrier for it and of it. I've realized this more and more deeply over the past couple of years. 
Whether we realize it or not, we want to be- were designed to be- seen, known, and loved by God. It is the ultimate yearning of the heart. Every inner feeling that this world is not enough, that lasting happiness should be possible, that we crave permanent love points us right to our dire need for our Creator. They are voids no human being, no vice, no intelligence or no plain virtue could adequately fill.

Living in the light of our Creator is different than trying to be, seem, or personify spirituality or self-awareness. It is seeking from spiritual life a constant awareness of a tangible, knowable, close, personal God- not just of self- and not using it to get to the top of the mountain, or seem separate or higher than any other man; or to seem more 'enlightened' or closer to perfection, but to live right there alongside any other being, right where we are (truly living in the present), vibrant in life and spirit and strong in character; living to please our Creator and not other people.

The effect of this particular spiritual awareness, for me personally, has been the end of seeking happiness, and the beginning of seeking instead the deepest nature of my design, the deepest nature of who I am and who I am created to be; yielding a sense of peace that no personal happiness even comes close to. 

I do not want happiness, nirvana, enlightenment, inner peace, or present-mindedness. I want God, who contains them all. 
Self-management has given way to true self-knowledge; peace has come by way not of reorganizing life's circumstances, but by realizing who I am on the deepest level, which- though achievements, goals, and the fulfillment of personal desires has been a byproduct- does not depend on any of those things at all.

When our most ultimate want is for "happiness," it suggests that we are interested primarily in comfort, in the idea that we can somehow overcome our own suffering if we just keep chipping away at it. It's a popular (and appealing) idea, but one which we can kind of tell, deep within us, goes against our true design. There is something higher than us on which we are designed to get our love, our character, our self-contentedness, our fearlessness. 

There's something inherently selfish about it when our practices, methods, and activities for achieving that sense of peace we all want are practices, methods, and activities that serve us, serve to ease the self. It's been humbling to learn to seek worth, peace, and purpose beyond myself.
So counter-intuitive as it sounds, I don't want to be happy. There's nothing in me that ever expresses a want for happiness at all. I desire the God on which I was designed to depend, rely, seek, and love- if I didn't do it consciously (and conscientiously), then I would do it unconsciously, as many do and I have done, finding temporary resolution- the management but not overcoming of suffering- outside of Him.

I've realized something interesting about life when we operate this way: we unify in mind, thoughts, words, actions, and spirit. It is a process of integration: of the self becoming one, seen, whole thing. And to become a whole thing means brokenness cannot be part of us anymore. There is no fragmentation of the self: the thoughts on this blog are of the same tone as my personal journal, and they are the same tone with which I would talk to friends, loved ones, or strangers. With God, there is no hiding. Intimacy with Christ means intimacy not with religion, but with who I am.

Reading Scripture, living in community with others who share the same worldview, praying distinctly to a God who I know sees me and knows me and will answer, and seeking ways to draw nearer to my heart's desire, is not always comfortable- it actually usually requires the sacrifice of time, comfort, ease and entertainment. But it's what we do with our quiet, unseen-by-people hours that determines who we are really, not just in our public life- and to obtain the same level of seamless peace in both realms is, I think, the aim of life. 

Simply, to be ourselves.
Not to always seek ourselves, or learn to accept ourselves, or to create ourselves (though these are important), but to eventually get to the point where we are in a state of truly being who we know we are. My story will change, my life will change, my art will change; I will change- but because my God, from whom I get my most ultimate identity and direction, will not, my character will only evolve- not waiver. 

Rootedness means we won't change based on circumstances. I will not be subject to seeking my own happiness, a slave to my own desires, because who I am on a fundamental level depends not on what I want for myself, but because of what God wants both from and for me. Knowing and loving the Lord is to live in a standing of righteousness: the fruit of that righteousness will be peace, and the effect of that peace will be quietness and confidence forever (Isaiah 32:17). 

And this requires not only my knowledge of myself, but of Him: of His traits, character, and nature, not as a concept or religious idea but as a distinct and relational being. It is not because of myself, but because of Him that I know ultimately who I am. 
Conviction in ultimate truth and not just personal truth has not meant ignorance or intolerance, but actually a deeper sense of empathy, understanding, and love toward all beings. In the Christian sense, God is love: not dogma, not argumentativeness, not sentimentality; not religious righteousness, ritualism, or the mere hope or wish of divine manifestation. 

It is a pervasive and inescapable reality. He is real and already there; but impossible to see if we're too fixed on our own personal wills and desires. But if we truly believe that God is love and we are aligned with God, we have no reason to be offended or threatened by anything. Whether we have 'happiness' or not, we have joy. It is not a circumstantial peace.

We have a foothold in the heart that cannot be shaken or taken, a perception of life that grows and evolves, an inner peace that doesn't leave and isn't subject to opposition.
I would never say (especially as an artist!) that I want to stop evolving, or changing, or developing. I want to change. I want my spirit to stay free and seeking, finding new places and new people, discovering new ways to see and be in and love the world. I want to always be inspired, I want to keep going, I want to love others and be personally unoffended by anything and everything. I want freedom over all. 

But real freedom requires obedience. I don't believe I can run morally or recreationally rampant through the world on my own terms- and this has freed me more than anything. Rebellion against the systems and powers of world and attempts to try to be 'different' from them doesn't interest me as much as obedience to God, which is the truest rebellion there is. 

As C.S. Lewis said, "No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." 

When we know the Lord, and we not only speak but live in truth, originality is a byproduct because it's also God's intention. An Artist doesn't make the same thing twice- and if we have the courage to believe distinctly that we are made, it also means having the courage to believe we are inherently unique without having to try.
This is a kind of love that frees us more than anything because it frees us to live. God teaches us self-renunciation; I've heard it said that if a man is not hungry for God, he is usually full of himself. And we are: full of our own wants, our own righteousness, our own morality, our own intelligence, and our own way.

Even with an awareness of Him, I can still get this way: it's our natural, fleshly, selfish instinct before we let the Spirit move in us. (It's also this realization that makes Christian spirituality humbling, knowing that I am not out to deem myself 'enlightened' because I recognize the natural state of all men, myself included, as sinful or prone to self-reliance and refusal of God): several days without reading my Bible, several nights with prayers that fall short of attentive conversation with my Creator, easily drifting to thoughts of the future or what is next- which too often leads to worry. And several years of my life without any of this practice at all.

But what astounding change has come from opened eyes and an open heart. It is a cuttingly humbling process to understand that truly living in the moment means both that anxiety about the future is pointless, and whatever is ahead, eyes fixed on God, is absolutely good.

And I trust absolutely good because I know it in my heart, and true as it is that the world offers you comfort, it's equally true that mediocrity is no adventure.

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