Finding Our Happiness on the Horizon

In the last post I talked about the danger in this life of setting our happiness upon the horizon. There is always something to strive for in the future, good and godly things, but what is dangerous is when all our hopes and dreams become connected to something that is fleeting, offering only a brief reprieve from the desire. Of course, there are many facets of this thinking and I should state here that I mainly would address external goals that we set down for ourselves. Internally we should also be working towards holiness as the Spirit transforms us more and more into Christ’s likeness (Phil 2:12-13, 2 Corinthians 3:18), but that is another thought for another time maybe.

What I would guard against in my own life is to be wary of resting my hope in what is to come. What I would want to strive for is a mindset that is fully alive in the present, using the vision of the future to fuel motivation for change now. How do we fight against a state of mind that distracts us from the present and wraps us up in the promises of the future? Three things come to mind, though I am sure there are many more that could be added.

1. Plan Loosely

The first thing that I have to remind myself is to plan loosely. When I was younger, to which my family could probably attest, I would stake my whole day on a specific, laid-out plan. Many a time, something would come up and the entire day would be changed in an instant. Unfortunately, I am ashamed to say that those were not good days for me as my attitude would be seriously crest-fallen and sour due to the change in plans. The thing is that I would be getting upset over situations in which I had little to no control over.

Since those days, I praise God for teaching me flexibility and a trust in His providence through high school and college. I have grown to understand that as a man I will never be able to hold in my mind and consider every single outcome of an action or plan and therefore I try to not worry about the things that oft go astray, especially the things that I have no control over. And though I cannot know everything, I do know that I serve a good God who does indeed know the outcome of every scenario and who is also working towards my own good in everything that He does (Romans 8:28).

Now do not get me wrong, planning is a good thing and I honestly really enjoy planning. But when we plan we should also keep in mind Proverbs 16:9 which says that, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” So since God has given us the ability to plan and to use wisdom in making those plans, we should not shy away from looking into the future. But when we do, we need to hold that vision loosely and place it into God’s hands, trusting that He will allow what is best to come to pass even if in the short run we may be lost on where the path now leads.

2. Practice Gratefulness

The second thing that we can do to fight against placing our hope in getting that promotion and raise, moving to your dream house, having perfect children, or buying the next must-have gadget is to practice gratefulness with what we already have. It is far too easy to get caught up in this materialistic (wanting more stuff) and meritocratic (wanting more status) culture. The problem with stuff and status is that they are never truly satisfying and so people who chase them will run on a perpetual wheel always chasing that elusive carrot.
How do we stop ourselves, though, and cease the endless racing? The first step I feel like is to simply be aware of where you are. Taking stock of your current situation (your relationships, your stuff, your talents, etc.) is an eye opening exercise. Once this inventory is taken, the next step is to simply ask yourself, “What am I thankful for?”

My wife when she was younger had the practice of writing out her ‘thankfuls’ on a daily basis. Every evening or so, she would take out a pen and paper and jot down a couple of things for which she was thankful. Earlier on in our marriage we took up the practice again together as a way to remind ourselves how blessed we really are. Of course, not everyone has the time to itemize their blessings on a daily basis, but whatever it looks like, practicing gratefulness, reminding ourselves of what we have been given, giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is a powerful way to keep us from foregoing our satisfaction and joy until we have hit that next milestone.

3. Prioritize Relationships

What was interesting when we continued writing down our thankfuls, was that after we had hit most of the obvious stuff such as the things we had or the times in life that we had come to, the most consistent item to show up were the times we had spent with friends or family. This may fall short of hard evidence, but what it indicates to me is simply that though ‘things’ are nice and there are worthwhile goals in life, what will truly make a life worth living is the relationships that are built and invested in along the way.

Take college as an example (as it seems to be a great micro-type of life). Whether you are in that time of life right now or have left it far behind, what memories do you look back on and value most? Were they the adventures you embarked upon with friends or that time you nailed the 4.0? Were they the discussions around a home cooked meal which were too few and far between or the day you were able to buy that new laptop (perfect for taking notes of course)? Looking forward we seem to be really good at intentionally pursuing accomplishments and things, but if those are not the things that we value most when we look behind us, what kind of life will we have lived when we come to the end?

Again, do not get me wrong, accomplishments are great and things can be good. What we should realize, though, is that in the big scheme of things, accomplishments and material things are only beneficial to a life worth living when they facilitate and influence the relationships that we have with those around us. That is why prioritizing relationships is key when we are seeking to fight the urge to find our happiness on the horizon.

God is good and He gives us so much in this life. Let us not miss it by being caught up in pursuing the next big thing.


“Settling Down”

     What does it mean to be settled? Ultimately being settled means that one has a solid foundation that they can rely on, that the turbulence of life has a lessened impact due to your being anchored upon a rock.
     A friend and I were talking a while ago and as we were catching up with each other our conversation drifted towards our friends and the people with whom we had graduated. Running through the various scenarios it was interesting that we started speaking in terms of who was the most “settled” in their current situation.
     As my wife and I are currently just about as un-settled as we have ever been, (Neither of us have permanent jobs, have only just now found an apartment to sublease, and most of our belongings are tucked away in a storage unit.) this was an interesting thought to me. What does it mean to be settled?
     I guess the way my friend and I were using it the other day was that being settled meant having a full-time job and general career plan, being in a committed relationship through marriage, and owning a house to live in for the foreseeable future. This definition most likely stemmed from the fact that most of the people we knew were working towards one or more of these supposed milestones.
     I found that I was easily slipping into the frame of mind that these milestones, these events in life, somehow meant that we had ‘arrived.’ However, thinking like this is truly dangerous especially when “I’ll be settled when X” turns into “I’ll be happy when X.”
     There will always be something else on the horizon that is worth striving for, and generally those things can be genuinely good in and of themselves. The danger, however, is when we start to make our joy in life contingent upon achieving those things. There are things that are great to achieve and should be pursued but we will only be truly settled, we will only find true joy in this turbulent life, when we have rested and anchored our lives in the solid rock that is Christ.