I am learning why it is useless to put so much energy into setting oneself up for a happy life—a life of pleasant experiences and opportunities and travel and fun. I am learning that every day small blessings come to us beyond our control or prediction, having nothing to do with lining up our ducks in a row.
I am learning that in the life of the person who “has it made” in terms of worldly advantages, unexpected trouble comes. And into the life of the person who seems to be unfortunate, unexpected pleasures come. Therefore, it is folly to try to seek after happiness, for we cannot plan what comes around the corner.
As usual, the closer I hone a deep and arcane personal insight, the more closely it resembles some simple statement in Scripture. Jesus said:
“… one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Now I understand better. Life—joyful life, and even pleasurable life—comes serendipitously as we are doing other things. The “other thing” I was doing recently that seemed to hold no promise of pleasure was three car trips to Florida to see my ailing mother-in-law and then to attend her funeral.
I noted several unplanned blessings. In the course of a pursuit of duty, my husband and I got to know a wonderful country pastor who does daily house visitations, and got to have lunch with him and some of his flock in a sunny room of a beautiful old inn in St. Augustine. And I got to meet my mother-in-law for the first time, and will remember the sound of her voice forever. And I got to sing solos to her, one of which brought tears to her eyes. And I called her “Mom,” and she loved it. And I had little moments and conversations with my husband I normally wouldn’t have. And we met a cool waitress at a Pizza Hut in South Carolina.
Unless bad things happen, some good things don’t happen either. Pursuing pleasure can lead to disaster, while forgoing it can lead to wonderful surprises. The rich man books passage on the RMS Titanic for an April cruise to New York; the poor man left behind in Southampton meets a woman around the corner from his house and marries the love of his life.
“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything” (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
I am thinking that when Jesus says “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” He is not disdaining possessions; He is pointing out a truth that is empirically discovered by many of us as we simply go about our obedient business before Him—that “life” pops up everywhere and unexpectedly. The wise man concludes his observations this way:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).